Everybody with half a foot on the career ladder will have had a career break, the moment where they got their first job, or that eureka moment where they decided to enter into a particular sector or industry. A recent visit at work from David Terrell, the man who gave me my first chance, inspired this latest blog post!
In 2008, whilst looking for work experience post-GCSEs, I saw an article in Caterer Magazine about a recently renovated hotel in Surrey, close to home. A very tentative email later, and the Head Chef invited me in for a chat. An hour or so after meeting him and I was buying chef shoes to start a job as a part-time pot-wash for the summer. Throughout this summer, and consequently the next year too, I worked just a few shifts a week, a couple midweek, plus Saturday evening and Sunday breakfasts, on the pot-wash but also some basic veg preperation and food stock takes. Of course at the time at the age of 16, I couldn’t drive, so getting to work about 40 mins drive away was an issue I had to resolve. With David’s support and commitment to me, I would catch two trains from home, and then David would pick me up and drive me onto work, and on the few occasions when he was off, the Sous Chef would be sent to get me instead! Likewise on the way home after work, despite it being out of his way, David would drop me off at the station so I could catch the train home. And this would continue every time. It’s this kind of support that didn’t have to be offered but David wanted to help so he did. He also extended this support to my parents, who soon adopted The Pride as their favourite local restaurant! Both summers gave me invaluable experience and a first taste of what the Hospitality/Restaurant industry was like. And of course what this also did was give me some proper work experience to put on the CV when I started applying for university. It’s fantastic now that David and I still keep in touch, and as this post started, it’s a pleasure to be able to now serve David and his wife when they came to visit last week.
David was/is clearly my first mentor, the first person from the industry who I have been able to go to for advice and support. I have been privileged enough in my career so far to have had several mentors and people I can rely on for support. The Oxford School of Hospitality Management, where I studied for 4 years, runs a fabulous mentoring scheme, in which final-year students mentor a first-year student (with experiences of the course, placements, career choices) and get a mentor in the form of a senior leader or manager from the industry. My mentor was Marc Millon, a food, wine and travel writer, who I first met in 2013 on a gastronomy field trip down to Devon. Marc provided me (and still does!) with great advice and insights into the industry, and of course career advice at a crucial time in life. We built up a great rapport together, and I would now consider us as good friends (I hope vice-versa too!). The time at uni has also allowed me to meet some amazing, influential people, and many of the staff and lecturers I still keep in regular contact with on both a formal and casual basis.
The point of this really, is that everybody probably has a mentor in some form, and the benefits are countless. Whether it’s that first Head Chef who gives you work experience and arranges lifts for you to get to work, or that person who can take you out for a glass of wine and some career advice, or whoever, it is important that in any industry, but especially one that can be as tough as hospitality, we all have a mentor/mentors that we can go to. I am lucky that through David and Marc, to name but two, I have a source of advice and support whenever I need it. And one day, I hope to also be able to give back to people with my own experiences and advice.