Scott Pickett on the importance of mentoring
I have had really great mentors throughout my career and I wouldn’t be the chef I am today if those people didn’t take me under their wings. It’s something I’m aware of and I feel a sense of responsibility to help the next generation coming through — it’s important to give back in cooking and in life.
Peter Jarmer was my first chef and he taught me all his skills and knowledge. Andrew Summers was another one along with Bruno Cerdan, Philippe Mouchel, Rabih Yanni, Philip Howard and Donovan Cooke. The one thing these people all have in common is that they gave me time and knowledge. I was a bit of a wild, young lad. I partied, I was late to work, I was hungover or I overcooked a piece of fish, but they believed in me.
Those mentors have really shaped who I am and how I see things. I like to think about that when it comes to the young chefs in my restaurants. They reach out to me for advice and we have an open and honest relationship personally and professionally. As much as I’m their boss, I like to be their friend as well. They’re the
boss of their kitchen and I’m the boss of the restaurant — I just make sure I don’t step on their toes too much.
Chefs aren’t trained to manage people or costs — they’re trained to cook — so we put support staff around them to make sure they’re setting up their formulas, dealing with suppliers, working at costings and costing rosters. I let them make their own decisions, but quite often I’ll pull them aside and say, ‘That was a good call’, or I’ll tell them to think about things from a different perspective. I’ll give them a brief and give them free rein, but I’m firm, too — I don’t take any shit.
I first did cooking competitions when I was an apprentice with Peter Jarmer and that’s when I met Bruno Cerdan. I had already been to Bocuse d’Or to watch some friends compete and Philippe Mouchel said I should enter. I represented Australia in 2005, and four years ago, I jumped on as the coach to support the candidates coming through. Bocuse led to S.Pellegrino asking me to be John Rivera’s mentor for the 2017–2018 Young Chef competition.
I have had the same experience, so I can explain it to the chefs who don’t know about it or haven’t done it before. I had a chat with Thomas Keller at Bocuse and he said that our job as mentors is to guide them, support them and give them the tools to succeed, and I thought it was a great way to look at it.
Competitions are different to cooking in a restaurant or hotel environment. There are different rules and set-ups and you expect things to be there but they’re not. It’s about problem-solving and thinking about variables and making sure you’re prepared for it. John was training at Estelle for six months and we would critique his dish. Every month we would have other chefs come in and taste the dish and give us feedback and ideas. John came fifth at the final and Jake Kellie [Burnt Ends, Singapore] came second, so it was a great result for Australia.
There’s a lot of talent coming through and they’re breaking the rules. I’ve always been a rule-breaker myself, but I’m starting to embrace a new level of freedom. I’m steeped in traditional French cuisine with a modern twist, but the young chefs coming up aren’t trained like that — they have the freedom to try interesting combinations and new techniques. There’s a lot to learn from these chefs and I’d be a fool if I thought I knew it all.
For me, it’s an honour and a privilege to be at this stage of my life and career where I can identify and appreciate that I have a responsibility to give back to the industry. If I didn’t have people who guided me at the start, I wouldn’t be the same chef I am today. It’s about the community of the jacket — we’re a brigade. Anyone who has the opportunity to be on the flip side should give back.
This story originally appeared in Hospitality‘s July issue. Subscribe here.
Image credit: Tim Grey