What I’m Taking Away from Future Chefs: The Power of Networking by Aquila Collins
Ask me about Future Chefs and I will tell you that it is not an after school program, a scholarship program, or a cooking competition program. For me, Future Chefs was, and still is, a life changing program. Aside from all of the great people who I have met, the volunteer and job opportunities I have received, and the great family that is gained being involved with Future Chefs, the most important thing I have taken away from the program is realizing the power of having a strong network. Just last week I had the opportunity to pass down my understanding of networking to five Future Chefs recruits at Mayor Menino’s, “Boston Moves for Health”event at the Copley farmers market.
At the start of our day, my FC co-worker Abbie and I led the group in a discussion about the impact that a positive first impression can make when building relationships with new people. We explained to theFC recruits that something as simple as introducing yourself with a clear voice, warm smile, and firm handshake can leave a lasting impression. It felt great to not only pass on knowledge to them, but also to see them putting it to practice hours later– it reminded me of when I attended my first Future Chefs event in 2008.
I have been involved with Future Chefs from the time that I was 16 years old when the program was just an idea floating around in Toni Elka’s mind. I knew Toni from a previous cooking program that I was involved with in high school. The way that I became involved with Future Chefs was by Toni calling me up and saying something along the lines of: “I think you should come with me to an event, and we are going to talk to people about this program that doesn’t yet exist.” At that time I thought she was a little crazy, but even still I went along with it. Toni and I headed over to Men of Boston Cook for Women’s Health where Toni taught me all about “schmoozing” as she calls it. The point of the schmooze is to put yourself out there and allowing your message be heard while building relationships with new people .
For a while I just sat back and watched as Toni worked the room speaking so comfortably with people whom she had never met before. It amazed me to see that perfect strangers could have such a relaxed conversation. Eventually, with a little nudge from Toni I stepped out putting into practice what I observed her doing. Most people asked me questions entertaining my conversation, and I slowly became more comfortable with schmoozing- I actually kind of enjoyed it!
I watched Future Chefs go from an idea to an established organization which is continuing to grow. I know that this growth could not have happened without the help and resources within the relationships and social capital that Toni built up through all of her schmoozing. Learning from my observation of Future Chefs’ progress, I try to build social capital in my own life. Relationship building is critical to anyone seeking success. Not very many people can reach success without ever looking to someone else for some form of help. The more people you know –or the more people who know you – the larger the variety of help that you have access to, and the better off you will be. Networking and my growing ability to schmooze is something that I will continue to implement throughout my life. I have truly grasped an understanding of what people mean when they say “It’s all about who you know”!
Written by Aquila Collins, August 2012
FC Alumna and Future Chefs Culinary Skills Assistant