My 19 year old son James has just got back from working for 8 months in Halkidiki, Greece as a deputy sous chef.  He has been working in restaurants since he knocked on the door of a local restaurant at the age of 14 and got himself a job as washer up.  Now he is making a career out of it.

As I write this he is working in a two day trial at Raymond Blanc’s 2 Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.  This is one of the finest and well known restaurants in the UK, and Raymond is what I think is known as a celebrity chef, not least from his TV series “The Restaurant”.Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, near Oxford, England

On Saturday James then heads to Gidleigh Park to do a trial for Michael Caines, whose 2 Michelin-starred restaurant won two awards last month as the best restaurant in the UK.  [youtube=]

If they assess James for his attitude, limitless ability to work long and hard hours, eagerness to learn, team skills and sheer energy (which I suspect they will), he will pass with flying colours.  Ability to bone a chicken or stuff a pheasant with a grouse can come later.

No pressure then!  James has done the equivalent of writing to Alex Ferguson for a job as centre half at Manchester United, or maybe to Ferrari for a job as a racing driver.  At his age I was halfway through my first term at Oxford, naive as you like, not one thought in my head about what I was going to do with my music degree and organ scholarship, and socialising my way through what was an utterly cloistered existence.  It would be another three years before I realised I had to earn a living, and made a batch of ill thought out applications to whoever I thought might pay me the highest salary as a Graduate Trainee.  With my MA (Oxon) proudly in my pocket, I shortly found myself working in Distribution for Whitbread, and spent a further 18 months on a ridiculously over-the-top induction programme based on the principle that if you are to manage something, you need to know how to do it first.  Thus my first 2 weeks were as a sorter of empty bottle crates (yellow ones go here, red ones go over there.)  By the time he is 24 James will have 10 years’ work experience, which will surely put him in a far stronger position than your typical University Graduate.

So James is way ahead of me, and will no doubt achieve way more than me if he keeps this up.  Hooray, a key piece of my life plan: help my children to not make the mistakes that I did!

What I’m wondering is what all this says about James’ mental limits.  He has made these applications off his own bat, and gone into them fully aware of the challenge.  He’s done his research and knows what he’s letting himself in for.  I think his attitude is that even if unsuccessful, he will learn, and find out what he has to do to get there.  Also that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.  And that life is too short to meander about in the foothills; might as well aim high.

It’s an inspiration to me, and a bit of reminder to think big and put the mental limits aside.  You only get one chance at this, after all.  Good luck, James.  Now keep an eye on your buerre blanc, don’t want to burn it……..