In August 2020, we launched our industry-facing website, openforgood.com, as a way to bring all of the resources the James Beard Foundation and other organizations have been creating and collecting together on one easy-to-use platform.
In addition to these resources, openforgood.com also features Mentorship presented by KitchenAid. Through this initiative, the mentorship platform aims to provide emerging culinary talent with critical support, educational tools, and resources they need to advance their professional careers and businesses, even in the face of a difficult recovery. Our roster of mentors includes chefs, restaurateurs, culinary instructors, financial advisors, and more that are poised to provide support to motivated individuals looking to learn and grow.
For the first entry in our Meet the Mentors series, we spoke with chef instructor at Culinary Institute of Charleston and South Carolina Chef Ambassador Kevin Mitchell about how his mentors guided him to culinary school.
James Beard Foundation: What is the difference between being a leader and a mentor?
Kevin Mitchell: A leader is an individual that is selected to “lead” an organization or a group of people towards a common goal, whereas a mentor is chosen to guide an individual through the use of personal and professional experiences. Both are necessary to success, the approaches are slightly different.
Have you had a mentorship relationship that changed your career/outlook?
Mitchell: I have had them at different phases of my career. They were able to offer me the advice and guidance I needed to be successful not only in my profession but in life as well. As a young cook, my mentor chef James George scheduled me for a shift, but little did I know he had planned to drive me to the Culinary Institute of America to take me on a tour of the campus. Later in life, my mentor chef Joe Randall, who has always been a huge proponent of education, encouraged me to continue my education first by getting my bachelor’s degree and then to follow my passion by getting my master’s degree. That is the beauty of mentorship. These gentlemen were able to guide me through both professional and personal aspects of life, which groomed me to become the man I am today.
What should aspiring chefs be aware of before applying to a culinary school?
Mitchell: Before entering culinary school, students should speak to seasoned chefs to get an understanding of the restaurant industry. They should also understand that it is going to be challenging but if they are focused and diligent, the sky’s the limit.
How have you seen culinary schools diversify and keep up with the changing culinary scene?
Mitchell: Schools such as the Culinary Institute of America have introduced courses centered around Southern cuisine and the African diaspora. These courses introduce students to an in-depth look at food that has been otherwise overlooked in the culinary curriculum.
On your mentorship profile, you noted that you have an interest in mentoring individuals who identify as Black/African. How should we as a restaurant industry work to dismantle the barriers for the next generation of Black industry workers?
Mitchell: Dismantling the barriers starts with people in power taking responsibility and an interest in people of color in the industry. Whether it is identifying talented employees and grooming them for positions in management or creating programs that educate [minority communities] on the opportunities in the restaurant industry. It will also take those who have attained a level of success to reach back into those communities and pour into those individuals.