The oversize box appeared in my office a couple of beats before its bearer. It was 8:30 in the morning on Christmas’ Eve. Most of the world was already busy preparing a holiday meal but I was still at work, making plans for a crowded day.
Polly, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, shoved the giant package in my face.
“For you!” she beamed.
I was befuddled. I had met Polly a couple of years earlier. She was a young line cook, short on experience but long on enthusiasm, a smiling spot amongst a bunch of hardened male line cooks. While expediting, day in and day out, I came to cherish her chatter during the slower times, set against the stony silence of the boys. In a still male dominated industry and in that particularly male kitchen, she became a ray of sunshine, working with dedication and curiosity. I came to learn quite a lot about her and one day she mentioned a book she was reading, by a semi-obscure English chef whose fame had peaked in the early ‘90s. I realized she was voraciously devouring every fine dining chef autobiography she could get her paws on.“Polly, where would you like to go from here?” I asked her
“I want to be a chef. I want to have my own restaurant one day”.
Most young cooks start thinking they will land a spot on Top Chef by the time they are 23 but this girl was showing dedication to her cause. A few months later, I recommended her to a chef in a fine dining restaurant who was recruiting. She got the job and she is doing great.
“I couldn’t have done it without your support and help” she said, pushing the gift into my hands. I felt tears welling up. Mentoring is the best part of my job but it often goes undetected; ultimately, fostering talent is part of my job description. Polly had already given me the best gift of all – she had gone out into the world and made me proud. I knew that my belief in her was a small part of her success, mainly because I helped her believe in herself, in the place that exists for awkward girls with determination, enthusiasm and curiosity.
I accepted the lovely gift and, before even opening it, I knew her smile at having surprised me and touched me was, once again, the best reward of all.