By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Life is full of chance encounters and we often find friendships, mentorships even, in the most unlikely times and places. For me, even though I’ve spent a lifetime around countless successful people in this business, it’s one of my earliest leaders whom I look back on as one of my strongest mentors.

For the third time, my young friend Ian paid the Buck’s T-4 team and me a visit. To Ian, I’m hopefully this cool chef he hangs out with every time he’s in Big Sky visiting his grandparents. For me, I’m happily faced with the challenge of finding something new and exiting to show my young friend each time he’s here.

If you remember from a column published in EBS last year, the first time I met Ian, I took him behind the scene: a lengthy tour of both of our kitchens at Buck’s. During our second encounter, I instructed Ian to stand at “the pass,” or the bridge of a ship as I compared it, to see where the chef stands so he can observe everything.

But this time was different. This time I put him to work. I met him in the dining room and asked him if, when he was finished with his entrée, he wanted to come back to the banquet kitchen and help us plate a 70-person banquet.

Honestly, I thought he might begrudgingly say yes. But Ian’s eyes lit up like the first time I met him when I told him he could come back and visit me anytime.

We walked back to the kitchen together and he got suited up. Well, we gave him an apron and sanitary gloves.

“Your job,” I said, “is to stand here on the end next to me, don’t move, and put these tiny greens as a garnish on the top of every plate.”

Ian nodded in agreement, but with an ever-so-slight look of disappointment, as if he was hoping for much more responsibility. I saw this expression, and quickly followed up with, “It may seem small, but with a large job like this, everyone and every little step is very important.” He nodded again, but with more enthusiasm this time as he looked up at me with that exuberant smile. He got it.

And he did great; a natural, really. At one point, when a team member had to walk away for a few minutes, Ian took to her task as well. And I never said anything. He just did it. Now it was I who was looking at him with the proud smile of a chef and mentor looking at his star pupil. Knowing I had a future chef, but more importantly, a future friend working next to me.

Driving home that night after my time with this eager yet stoic young man, I imagined a scenario: Perhaps one day as a chef in the “last-call” years of my career, I’ll get a phone call from a much younger chef I know. A talented and driven chef who is in the throes of his own career full of achievements, challenges met, and a successful restaurant with a full staff, loyal patrons, and a city wide reputation as “the place to be.”

He’ll ask me for help and if I can visit and spend some time with him. As his one-time and maybe long-time mentor and friend, I will say yes, of course. That young chef will be Ian.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.