The secret ingredient to chef Peter Gunn's success

Chef Peter Gunn didn't realise he was looking for a mentor until he started work at award-winning Melbourne restaurant Attica.

It was here that he met star chef Ben Shewry, who was able to provide the kind of guidance and moral certitude Gunn was privately itching for.

"I had just met my fiancée and we were looking to start a family and I needed to stay in the one place and get a bit of structure in my life," Gunn says.

"Ben had already taken many of the steps in life that I was preparing for."

Before he met Shewry, Gunn's life was typical of a lot of young, nomadic Australian chefs: a year spent at an esteemed restaurant in a remote or exotic location before moving on to the next faraway adventure.

You want someone who has made all of the mistakes for you.

Nick Bowditch

It all changed when Attica popped up on his radar some five years ago, although it would take a few false starts before he landed his sous chef position.

"I tried out for Attica three times, and didn't make it," he says.

"In the end, Ben liked the way I was persistent and we now have a mutual respect in our working relationship."

Paying homage

Gunn's time at Attica has hammered home to him the crucial role workplace mentors play.


"Ben has taught me the importance of respecting people and to make sure that you do everything to the highest level possible and with integrity," Gunn says.

When Gunn revealed to Shewry that he harboured ambitions of owning his own restaurant, his mentor was supportive.

"He said, 'You need to do what fulfills you'," Gunn recalls.

Gunn went on to establish Ides, a monthly pop-up restaurant at Persillade in East Melbourne, and he hopes to transform it into a bricks-and-mortar venture next year.

Choose wisely

Whether it be cooking or the corporate world, the benefit of a mentor is considerable. They open doors, offer insights, and can be a psychological salve in our stressful worker-day lives.

Nick Bowditch, corporate speaker and founder of The Mentoring Club, says a good mentor can radically change the course of a person's career.

"The mentor does not have to be within the exact same field as you, but they need to have faced similar challenges," Bowditch says.

"You want someone who has made all of the mistakes for you."

Sharing knowledge

Bowditch urges people to be aware of 'mentors' who are trading simply on the length of time they have been in a role.

"Someone may have been with the same company for 30 years, but that may mean they are complacent," he says.

"This is why it is always better to choose a mentor in a company rather than be assigned one, because then you can make a value judgment."

The best mentoring he has received in his career was during his tenure at Facebook — Bowditch headed up the Australian operations for a few years — where mentoring was a daily occurrence rather than a structured program with flow charts and trust games.

"I had people who were literally 20 years old mentoring me," he says.

"At Facebook, mentoring was just part of everyday life. They hired the best people and the best people want to help share their knowledge."

Plating up

Peter Gunn will be tipping his hat to mentors at this month's foodie film night, Step Up to the Plate, as part of The Age's Good Food Month.

Moviegoers will watch the cult foodie film, Step Up to the Plate — which focuses on legendary chef Michel Bras as he hands over the reins of his food empire to his son — while devouring offerings by some of Melbourne's top chefs, as they transform their mentors' greatest works into movie snack form.

Joining Gunn at the November 22 event will be Florent Gerardin (Pei Modern) Cory Campbell (ex-Vue de Monde), and Nic Poelaert, who trained under Bras himself.

French chef Gerardin has been in Australia for seven years and says Shannon Bennett (of Vue de Monde) has been a valuable mentor on his culinary career path.

The art of delegation

"Shannon actually taught me the art of delegation," Gerardin says.

"The ego of the chef is very massive and sometimes we think it is faster and easier to do something ourselves."

Gerardin says while he enjoys mentoring younger staff — and finding a way to bring out the best in someone — he still considers himself a student.

"I have had lots of mentors throughout my career and, as a result, I have stayed in jobs for between two and four years," he says.

"The times when I didn't stay as long was because there was no mentor for me to learn from.

"Even today, I don't think I have learned everything myself, you are always learning."

Book now for Step Up To The Plate at Melbourne's Good Food Month.