This month, as students close one chapter and graduate to another level of learning, and as we celebrate one of the greatest mentors in our life – our dad, I thought it would be interesting to share an inspiring experience I had recently with one of my own mentors and teachers.

When you work hard to be the very best you can be at your craft, I find it’s inspiring to look at the people who have moved the needle in new and interesting ways, to drive your own creativity and skill forward.

In April, I had the chance to be a part of a small, intimate gathering of chocolate and pastry professionals from across North America who had met up in Brooklyn to get insights and perspective from French pastry chef, Pierre Herme.

If you’re not familiar with Pierre, he began his career at the tender age of 14 (which is something that really does happen in France) as an apprentice to the master, Gaston Lenôtre. He now has a successful enterprise of chocolate and pastry boutiques in 12 countries around the world.  He’s been called the Picasso of Pastry and the inventor of the Pâtisserie Haute Couture concept, but I like to think of him simply as the father of modern pastry and chocolate.  But what I learned in Brooklyn is that he is someone who relentlessly pushes himself to be better and more innovative all the time.

Pierre generously shared details about his journey to open the very first Pierre Herme boutique, in Japan not France, and his pursuit of new flavour pairings and techniques to satisfy his curiosity and keep his tastebuds tantalized.  One thing that struck me during our time together is that he seems genuinely interested and curious about everything, and just about anything inspires him.  He has a very sophisticated palate, which helps him imagine unusual ingredient pairings, which he admits over the years have taken more than a thousand recipes to master. 

That’s something I can relate to because I’m always tinkering with my recipes to continuously refine them. Pierre shared a story about his now best selling cake, the Ispahan, which is a delicious harmony of rose-flavoured almond cake, raspberry and lychee. In Brooklyn, Pierre admitted that he originally developed the recipe with just rose and raspberry notes.  The cakes weren’t popular and his team pressured him to take it off the menu year after year.  The interesting part of the story is that Pierre said he could always see and taste the potential for this cake and refused to drop it from the line up.  He refused to measure success through sales.  He said that sometimes you have to imagine what isn’t there today and bring your community of customers along the journey with you. After years (yes, years) of tinkering with the recipe, he finally added a hint of lychee and today it’s consistently one of the top five selling products in his boutiques.

For me to hear that someone, who is considered at the pinnacle of his career, struggles and fails and doggedly pursues perfection…well it just leaves me with a renewed sense of purpose, focus and inspiration.

So for the graduates moving on, the dads imparting words of wisdom and everyone who has a few impromptu moments to mentor, don’t forget that everyone is always learning and growing.  The brave find new ideas and inspiration in their failures and stick with the journey for the long haul.