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National Restaurant Association - 'Top Chef:' Mentoring is key to the future

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'Top Chef:' Mentoring is key to the future

Richie Farina is passionate about the next generation of professional chefs. The Top Chef contestant and former executive chef of Chicago’s Moto restaurant, is devoted to the Trotter Project and his work with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart program. In between training students and planning his own restaurant, Farina talked about the importance of mentoring others.

Why is mentoring important?

It’s very cool seeing young kids have a passion for what I love to do every single day. There are a lot of kids who want to get into the culinary field. If they have someone who invests in and wants to teach them, they get empowered and want to become the great chefs they know they can be. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

You started mentoring young people through the Trotter Project. Tell us about it.

The Trotter Project was founded in honor of Chef Charlie Trotter, who died in 2013. He was committed to working with young chefs and mentoring them into the industry. He also was involved in helping the NRA Educational Foundation’s ProStart program. By working with the Trotter Project and ProStart, I’m helping to carry on part of his legacy -- the ideas he had, his desire to give back to the community and helping young chefs work their way into our industry.

What’s most impressive about the next generation of chefs?

I think it’s their palates. Through the Trotter Project, I had the privilege of coaching the Roosevelt High School ProStart team in Chicago. Their palates were better than some of the chefs at my restaurant. It’s mindboggling to me that at 16 years old they know what intricate and sophisticated flavors should taste like. Everything they cooked was thoughtfully seasoned and really well put together. In high school, girls and boys should be worried about the clothes they’re wearing or what movies are out there. These kids were worried about whether a dish had enough salt or was acidic enough. It’s really cool that at such a young age they had such a passion for cooking.

What’s the best advice you could give a young restaurateur or chef?

Trust your instincts. If you love this and want to do this, more than likely your first instinct is the right one. Don’t second-guess yourself. Go with your gut. To be truly successful and go far in this industry, you have to love it. Make sure you have a passion for the work and for cooking. That way you won’t feel like you’re working a single day in your life.

Where will this next generation take the industry?

I see them taking this industry to a whole other level. Most chefs today are considered successful when they’re in their 30s or 40s and have already worked at a lot of different places. Soon we’re going to be seeing twenty-somethings winning all kinds of awards, like James Beard and Michelin stars. If they get involved in ProStart while in high school, go to culinary training and then start working in the industry, they’ll have been cooking way before the age of 21. Having that much experience will catapult them a lot further along in their careers and help them achieve success at a much younger age.

Pictured top right: Richie Farina; above: Farina with a ProStart student at NRA Show 2015

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