Dining

Sauté It Forward

Meet the chefs who taught Curtis Stone and Renee Erickson how to kick ass in the kitchen, and how they're teaching the next generation
Illustration: Rosalyn Yoon
Chef Mentors

This April, join us as we take a deep dive into the future of food. Here's where now meets next.

Great chefs don't just flare up outta nowhere. A person can become an excellent cook at a relative's elbow, via a pricey education or even by stirring and dicing alongside a slew of videos—but that's only part of the gig. Becoming a successful restaurant chef takes discipline, leadership, business savvy and a whole lot of teamwork and people skills that may not come naturally to those who are drawn like moths to kitchen life.

Enter the mentor.

It's a craft that's passed down from head chef to line cook, generation to generation by people who give a damn about the past, present and future of dining, and it's a bond that lasts a lifetime. We asked six of our favorite chefs to pay homage to the people who showed them the ropes—and shout out some talent they're helping up the ladder.

Photo: Ray Kachatorian

CURTIS STONE
Chef/owner of Maude in L.A., TV host and author of multiple books including Good Food, Good Life

Mentor: Enifred Barth, executive chef instructor

"Now he's now one of the executive chef teachers at William Angliss Institute in Australia, but then he was the executive chef of the Savoy Hotel in Melbourne. He was very strict and would talk a lot about doing things the right way or the wrong way. I still can't really say his name in a sentence; I still call him 'chef.' It's almost like he was a member of that old brigade.

He had worked in great hotels and restaurants all over Europe and played a big part in inspiring me to fly the coop of my home city and learn European cooking techniques at the source. It was his advice that got me working for Britain's most celebrated (and feared) chef, Marco Pierre White. I'm now sharing knowledge with the young guys in my kitchen at Maude that he used to share with me.

There needs to be some kind of understanding and acceptance between the mentor and mentee. You've got to be really up front with the people you are going to potentially employ, and they've got to be up front with you about what you want from each other. There has got to be a meeting of the minds somewhere for it to work. By learning from a handful of people, you work out both what to do and what not to do—equally important lessons."

Mentee: Justin Hilbert, chef at Maude

"I'm opening a second restaurant, Gwen, this year, so I need to juggle my time, and I feel more than confident to leave my guests in Justin's expert hands. He really holds it down in the kitchen day in, day out and night in, night out. I feel fortunate to mentor Justin on how Maude runs from a business perspective and to work closely together on the monthly menu development. Even though he nearly breaks his back each month to pull together a new menu and will stop at nothing to get it just right, I know he thrives from the challenge. I think he is going to make a huge impact on the L.A. dining scene over the next few years and beyond."

Photo: Jennifer Olson

MINDY SEGAL
Chef/owner of Mindy's Hot Chocolate in Chicago, author of Cookie Love and creator of Mindy's First Batch edibles

Mentor: Michael Kornick, chef/owner of MK in Chicago

"He taught me how to be a businesswoman and a leader and not just a chef. He taught me how to manage and to talk to people, both staff and guests. He taught me that my window of opportunity is as far open or closed as I want it to be. He taught me a lot about enjoying wine with food, and, of course, he's an all-around great chef. A lot of who I am today is because of him. He's really kooky, and I love kooky people."

Mentee: Amanda Rockman, executive pastry chef of Café No Sé in Austin, TX

"I didn't really teach her how to bake, but I do help her in the abstract of the industry. I think she is the bee's fucking knees. She's talented, driven, has balls just like any man. She's the future of our industry. Pastry, dessert, candy, ice cream, cake—today, a well-rounded pastry chef can do it all. Take your space in it and get dirty. She's got this drive that reminds me of me when I was younger. She's the shit right now, but she's really coming into her own."

Photo: Jim Henkens

RENEE ERICKSON
Chef/owner of The Whale Wins, as well as other Sea Creatures restaurants in Seattle, and author of A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus

Mentor: Kind of a funny story . . .

While Erickson credits former Boat Street Cafe owner Susan Kaplan for some of her love of Provençal flavors, she bought her own business at age 25 and had to make it up as she went along.

"I didn't have what most people consider normal mentoring; I just went to work for myself, which is very uncommon and hard. I was responsible for it all, but I was also doing everything that I expected my employees to do. I would close for major holidays, because I wanted to have a life. It's obviously smarter to be open, but we opened for New Year's Eve once, and I was just like, this is terrible.

That is what caused me to pay closer attention to how I felt and how it affected my staff. It's not like I don't ask [my staff] to do a lot of really hard things all the time, but I also try to pay attention to some kind of balance. And most of them have stayed with us."

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Mentee: Marie Rutherford, chef de cuisine, The Whale Wins

"She's leaning toward being the same kind of leader. She's a really creative, smart, funny woman, but also incredibly devoted to making sure our employees are happy and enjoying their job and learning. She's a holistic kind of chef, and she really, really, really cares."

Photo: Quentin Bacon

MASHAMA BAILEY
Executive chef and partner at The Grey in Savannah

Mentors: Anne Willan, La Varenne in Santa Monica and France, and Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune in New York City

Willan: Bailey had been working as a personal chef for a family for four years and appreciated the stability but had also grown bored of cooking "food for old people." On a whim, she signed up through her school for a program working and learning at a French chateau with Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky.

"She told me, 'Go back into cooking.' I was like, 'I just want to be a food writer or a blogger. I just want to chill.' She was just, 'COOK. Because you're good at it, and not everyone is good at it.'"

Bailey stayed longer than she'd planned in order to help break down the chateau after Cherniavsky suffered a stroke. Packing up Willan's massive library, she randomly opened The French Laundry Cookbook. There was an inscription from Thomas Keller: "Anne, Thank you so much for your guidance and your thoughtfulness, I'm so happy I took your advice."

"It was like, oh, shoot, I should listen to this lady! Thomas Keller listened to her. It was like something from a movie. I came back home; I pounded the pavement and started figuring it out from there. That was the moment when I started taking it seriously."

Hamilton: "I give her a lot of credit. She was one of the first chefs I cooked for who was just like, 'Cook what you want to eat.'"

Mentees: Casey Brand and Steven Jones, oyster shucker and line cook at The Grey

Brand: "She started shucking oysters just so she can work at our restaurant. She's concise and thoughtful and doesn't say a lot of words, but the ones she does say are action verbs. She makes me come correct. I can be a little long-winded or all, 'What do you think?' And she's kind of like, 'I'm here to learn.' She's not all tough and rough around the edges, and she is definitely someone who I would like to teach things to."

Jones: "Every dish I give him, he's reconvinced of why he works with me. There are a lot of things he doesn't want to eat, and I convince him to try them and to like them. He thinks he's more of a chef than a line cook. And you have to be a line cook first.

His talent is great, but every place he's worked, he's worked a year, maybe eight months. You have to work at a place for a few years. You don't think you do. You think that the key to this whole thing is moving around, but you have to be somewhere and cook through the seasons, not once but twice. You have to sit still for a minute."

Photo: Erika Botfeld

ASHA GOMEZ
Chef/owner of Spice to Table in Atlanta and author of My Two Souths

Mentor: Anne Quatrano, chef/owner of Bacchanalia and other Star Provisions restaurants in Atlanta

"I'd had respect for her contributions to American South cuisine long before I joined the food world. I recall one afternoon sitting in my restaurant feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gifts of inspiration Anne had indirectly bestowed on me by her example as a female chef and entrepreneur. If there was an embodiment of who I aspired to be like in the culinary world, it was Anne Quatrano. I decided that day to make her lunch and deliver it to her restaurant.

Around five that evening, imagine my surprise when Anne visited me, smiling warmly, and said, 'My mother always told me never to return an empty pot. I made dinner for you.'

Since that beautifully reciprocated gesture, Anne has been my mentor, sister and inspirational figure on my journeys. The most important thing she taught me was that by staying true to your craft and staying the course, nothing can be a barrier to you in the food world."

Mentee: Robyn Tedder, founder/owner of Breadbox & Biscuits in Pittsburgh

"We meet people in our lives not fully knowing the value they will eventually bring to us and to the world at large. Her warmth and intelligence positively impacted my son's life in the first grade, and she's grown to be the daughter I never had.

Much like me, she's not traditionally cooking-school trained, but the steward of a rich culinary legacy who also has a formidable entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for food. I hope that I have imbibed in her that success ultimately is a combination of art, business savvy and grit, which comes only with life experience. She's about to embark on an exciting new journey, and the unsuspecting folks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have no idea yet the impact she's about to have. Stay tuned for her."

Photo: Heidi Geldhauser

STEVEN SATTERFIELD
Chef/owner of Miller Union in Atlanta and author of Root to Leaf

Mentors: Bob Hatcher, owner of Eats, Anne Quatrano and Scott Peacock (Atlanta)

Satterfield laughs, "There's more than one mentor. It took a lot to mold me."

Hatcher: "When I was playing music, he had a revolving door of musicians working in his restaurant—busy, very fast-casual, counter service. He would do anything to keep that place running, if he was bussing tables, cleaning the toilets or chasing out a homeless person who broke into someone's car. I had a lot of respect for him. He taught me a work ethic. When you see an owner busting his ass to make the restaurant work, it makes you realize how much it matters."

Peacock: "I learned a lot about the Southern grandmother basics. Some people don't know how to make a jam or a jelly or good biscuits or chow chow. I learned how to frost cakes and bake pies. You don't learn that in most cheffy kitchens.

I worked for him for almost a decade. He took me on trips and introduced me to people. I went with him to cook at the James Beard Awards and for people like Ruth Reichl and Alice Waters when I was still young and hungry to learn.

He was the bridge between the old guard and the new school. He was very deeply influenced by Edna Lewis and ended up being her caregiver as she became very elderly. I used to pack up her dinner every night, and I got to spend some time with her. She was obviously a huge influence on him and on me. Her book, A Taste of Country Cooking, is one of the most well-written books I've ever read."

Mentees: Justin Burdett, executive chef of Local Provisions in Asheville and Emily Hansford

Burdett: "His food is thoughtful, pretty and delicious, and he works in complex ways that come across as a unified, simple dish. It's incredibly cerebral with so much honor given to ingredients and the people who produced them. He's really funny and fun and a very hardworking guy."

Hansford: "Like Justin, she was my chef de cuisine. She's a real brainiac and a huge thinker. She's gone back to Ohio where her roots are, and she's planning on growing some of her own food and opening her own restaurant. It's going to make a big splash.

Also like Justin, she thinks really deeply about each dish before she puts it together. She's got a delicate touch and a feminine approach to food that I think is really beautiful. I loved cooking with her. She taught me a lot—especially about how to think outside the box—and I'm proud to say that.

Scott was very rigid in the sense that he has very strong views about how food should be. Justin and Emily both opened up my heart and eyes to food having more possibilities. It allowed me to explore more things I wouldn't normally have put together. They're younger and have fresh ideas."

Find Maude here, or in our DINE app.
Find Mindy's Hot Chocolate here, or in our DINE app.
Find MK here, or in our DINE app.
Find Café No Sé here, or in our DINE app.
Find Prune here, or in our DINE app.

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