S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 - Meet Mentor Cristina Bowerman

Michelin-starred chef Cristina Bowerman tells us what makes a chef great and how she intends to help one lucky finalist become the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015.

A degree in law wasn't enough to deter Cristina Bowerman from the kitchen. Bowerman, who trained in San Francisco and Austin almost two decades ago, runs Glass Hostaria and Romeo in Rome. She is one of the few Italian females chefs to have been awarded a Michelin star and her passion for cooking is very much alive.

One of the roles Bowerman feels most comfortable in is teaching, thus, she's signed up to be one of the mentors for S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015. The chef will mentor Paolo Griffa, the Italian finalist who will cook his signature dish of Tripe & Foie Gras at the grand final at Expo Milano 2015 in June.

Ahead of the big event we spoke to Bowerman about what makes a great chef and how she intends to help Griffa become the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015. Here's what she had to say:

What kind of cuisine do you create?
Modern Italian cuisine with and a passion for some foreign cuisines.

What are your restaurants?
Glass Hostaria and Romeo in Rome, Italy.

Who's your mentor and what did he/she teach you?
Egil Valentin showed me what passion is. Taught me how to study and be curious.

What’s the best advice you were ever given when you were training?
"Don't let anybody see you sweat. Keep calm and do it."

Do you remember one of the big mistakes you made in a kitchen when you were training?
Yes, of course I do! Fastest way to learn is to make a mistake, isn't it? I did not realize somebody was already using the oven and I turned the temp up, burning whatever was inside. I got yelled at for 15 minutes by each of the cooks in the kitchen and could not say a word. Was terrible. But, since then, I have never turned the temp up without opening the oven door. Even if I can see it through the glass, I still open it!

Is there one mistake you see young chefs making very often?
Well, I do see a lot of chefs not studying enough. I also see some of them falling into temptations in imitating big chefs instead of focusing on who they are and try to find a way to express that through their dishes. And finally, I see some chefs who have a vague idea of what running a restaurant means and think it is easy...well, it's not! So before opening one, please, do cover all aspects of restaurant business which go beyond the "kitchen".

What should they do do instead?
I think they should try to stay within a "partie" for a year circa and then do a  FOH training. Even though it will not be their job, they should know everything about it. Then, the other big investment in time and energy is finding somebody you trust that will do anything you can't do.

What are the best characteristics a young chef can have, nowadays?
Being humble, study and be connected. Understanding what happens around us is important. Also, always look at anybody knowing they can do at least one thing better than you. And then "steal" it!

What are the worst?
Arrogant cooks, I don't like. And cooks (and people in general) who criticize and complain are not my kind of cooks. An old saying states that you can be the best cook ever but if you complain all the time or you fuss, you switch from being an asset to being a liability in a heartbeat. And that guarantees you a kick out of the restaurant, no matter how good you are.

What’s your main focus in advising the S.Pellegrino Young Chef candidate of your region?
Paolo is a great person and we started our relationship just writing to each other. Then we switched to Skype. One of the things that I told him right away was" this has to be your dish, not mine. I will ask you questions, I will push you to think and I will help you finding the products, but I will not suggest how you should cook your dish." I think he liked the approach.

What’s your message to all the finalists of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 worldwide?
E.E.E. These are my rules: Enjoy yourself, because you must have fun while working, it is the only way you can have success. Express yourself. We have few chances in life to do so, we are lucky to be able to do it. Entertain the clients. People who take themselves too seriously are not in my likings. I love seeing my customers smile or laugh. If people took themselves a little less seriously, world would be a better one.

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