Michelin-Rated Mentorship

Top Bay Area Chef Mark Dommen '95 guides a new generation

By SAYANTIKA MANDAL, USF NEWS Posted Mon, 11/20/2017 - 10:44

When hospitality management major Megan Austin '16 signed up for the Alumni Mentor Program her senior year, she had no idea that she'd soon be sitting across the table from a Michelin Guide-rated chef. 

Her mentor was Mark Dommen ’95 — "one of the best, but least hyped, chefs in the Bay Area," according to San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer. The pair met at Dommen's One Market Restaurant where he's head chef and partner, and enjoyed the restaurant's iconic Bay Bridge views.

Austin told him about her experience and future plans. Over the year they connected several times, and he helped her think through a difficult decision: After graduation, should she apply to culinary school or try to gain experience through an internship or look for a job in a professional kitchen?

“Culinary school is a great option for many, but after we talked about my learning style, we decided it would be more beneficial for me to jump right into a kitchen," says Austin. "I tend to learn better through experience and practice, and he was willing to help me get into a kitchen where I could learn through experience.”

From mentee to head pastry chef

Dommen invited Austin to work at a charity event with One Market. Then he introduced her to the restaurant’s pastry chef Patti Dellamonica-Bauler, who took a liking to Austin and offered her a job.

“Thanks to my mentorship with Chef Mark and guidance from Chef Patti, I worked my way up from pastry line cook to a pastry assistant,” Austin says.

After a year-and-a-half at One Market, Austin landed a job as the head pastry chef at Flea Street Cafe, a local favorite in Menlo Park.

Dommen signed on with USF’s Alumni Mentor Program because he attributes much of his success to his own mentor, award-winning Chef Hubert Keller. 

“If you are young and inexperienced, you may not look at all the possibilities or all the consequences of making a decision,” says Dommen, who, like Austin, majored in hospitality management. "It’s always nice to have the opportunity to get some advice." 

Boutique hospitality

Austin was attracted to USF's hospitality program for its small class sizes, averaging 20 students, and personal attention. She also liked that students complete 800 hours of on-the-job training to graduate, which puts them ahead of others when it comes to landing jobs and internships. Most important, studying with faculty like Jean-Marc Fullsack, who cooked for Bill Clinton when he was president, meant an exceptional level of training.

In Fullsack’s Fundamental Culinary Skills class, Austin learned everything from culinary knife cuts to how to cook and plate a lobster. Just as important, she learned how to source and use organic, local, and healthy ingredients. 

“I am originally from Las Vegas, and UNLV is known for their hospitality program, so for a long time I planned to go there,” Austin says. "But I realized that because the program has so many students, I wouldn’t get the personal attention and hands-on experience like I did at USF.”

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