How to find a mentor and be a mentor

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

An often repeated statement on what it takes to succeed is familiar to most people:

“It’s not so much what you know as it is who you know.”

This truism suggests that with friends in the right places, you can succeed even if you are incompetent. We can all point to someone like this, but I interpret this statement differently. I believe that competence is a given and that no one can succeed long term without the skills and aptitude to perform at an acceptable level. With this in mind, surrounding yourself with others who serve as an inspiration, confidant, teacher and guide, and most importantly a critic who points you in the right direction, will only help you reach your goals.


For those seeking to define their place in the world, whether it be professionally or personally, the one piece to the puzzle that allows this to truly happen is the mentor relationships that a person takes part in. The mentor is a person who has the attributes that most closely align with defined success, has the experience that allows him or her to speak and act with the authority, passion and drive that keeps him or her in the forefront, and the honesty and the compassion to keep a mentee’s best interest at heart.

A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.

This literal definition fails to focus on the scope of the relationship that exists between mentor and mentee and assumes that a person receiving the mentoring is younger than the person providing the guidance. Mentor relationships can and do exist without age barriers and typically go way beyond giving help or advice.

I find that connecting with the right mentor is the single most important step in the progression of a person’s career, and in many cases life. On the other side, being a mentor  is by far one of the most important and rewarding pursuits in life.

True mentors share common traits:

  1. They always work hard at their pursuits.
  2. They never feel like they know it all and every day is an opportunity to learn.
  3. They are very humble about their success.
  4. They are true to their beliefs and never waiver from those things that they consider their “stakes in the ground.”
  5. They have high expectations of themselves and of others.
  6. They are not afraid to take calculated risks.
  7. They are honest beyond reproach.
  8. They never criticize, but are always willing to critique. Critique infers that when pointing out something that is incorrect they take the time to demonstrate how to do it properly.
  9. They are, as a result of #8, natural teachers.
  10. They always see the good and the potential in others and focus on that.
  11. They are willing to openly share what they know and provide others take to heart what is offered.
  12. They will always push others to reach their potential and rise up from mistakes and what others might consider as failure.
  13. They take more satisfaction in the success of others than they do in their own.
  14. They are their own worst critics.
  15. They realize that their ability to help others depends on their commitment to the aforementioned 14 points.

Ask yourself, “Who inspires me?  Who would I like to model my career after?  Who could teach me the most in relation to my goals?” Seek out these people and build your network of advisors; it may be the most important decision you make. Your mentor may be a prominent chef in the industry, the chef or manager you currently work for or that culinary instructor who takes the time to show real concern for your success. In any case, it is less about the position and more about the traits listed above.

For the accomplished chef, you are successful most likely because someone took the time to advise and guide you. Now it is your turn to give back. Identify a cook who has all the potential, but lacks the “push” to get to the next level. Take him or her under your wing and give the gift of mentorship. You won’t regret it.

Having found and followed a mentor, individuals are most likely able to reach a level of success in work and in life. When success happens, no matter how you define it, it is time to change your role from mentee to mentor and provide those same opportunities for others.

Find a mentor and be a mentor.

The American Culinary Federation’s Certification and Apprenticeship Facebook groups have built-in mentorship components. Join today to find your mentor or become one.

Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at

JulAug2019NCR_coverTo read the full July/August 2019 issue of the National Culinary Reviewsubscribe to the print version today (now with included digital access). If you’re already a subscriber, click here to sign in and start reading.