BY HALEY ROBINSON '17
Kate Belair ’15’s passion for food started well before her time at Mount Holyoke. At the age of 14, Belair began working in a seafood restaurant near her home in Maine. She figured she would eventually tire of the job, and that college would help steer her in a different direction. Instead, she found her summers spent home from college devoted to the restaurant. It wasn’t until her senior year, however, that Belair fully realized her interest in food and began to explore her professional options. A year after graduation, Belair applied for the restaurant management program at the Institute of Culinary Education. She now works as a floor manager at Mario Batali’s Eataly Flatiron in New York City.
Belair, a New York City native, originally moved to Maine at the age of 11. “I had a very difficult time adjusting and absolutely hated New England for the first three years I lived there,” said Belair. “But by high school I began to love it. And by the time college rolled around, I knew I wanted to stay in the Northeast.” At the time, Belair was convinced that her mother, a Barnard alumna, would try to persuade her to consider a women’s college. However, Belair’s mother was opposed to the idea. “Surprisingly, [she] didn’t want me to go [to a women’s college]. I wasn’t too sure about it either. But, when I opened the acceptance email, I lost my mind. I was so excited.” At the time of her admission, Belair was in the midst of her gap semester in Sligo, Ireland. By the time she returned to Maine, her mother had already sent in the deposit to Mount Holyoke.
At Mount Holyoke, Belair majored in European history with a concentration on industrialization and the buildup to World War I. “So far, it has been incredibly useful in everyday life,” quipped Belair. “I minored in Economics, which is far less practical than knowing about Czech and German tensions in the 1890s.” She was also very involved on campus, working in the Student Programs office and serving as treasurer for The Network and the 2015 Class Board.
Reflecting on her academic and cocurricular experiences at Mount Holyoke, Belair reaffirmed that a liberal arts degree has been immensely useful in her professional endeavors. “I think being at Mount Holyoke taught me some skills that help in my field. But, I think, most importantly, [Mount Holyoke] taught me how to listen,” said Belair. “This goes against all the cheesy feminist lines, but I think I learned how to lean back, rather than lean in. Sometimes it’s more important to listen to others than to be the one being heard.” In the field of hospitality, Belair insists that being engaged and curious are traits employers actively seek out. “Be humble, ask to learn and dive right in,” Belair advises. “Figure out where you want to work and email them. Better yet, just walk in with your résumé and ask to talk to a manager. The most successful people in this industry are the ones that know how to talk and connect with people. Managers and chefs will teach you everything you need to know; you just need to have the desire to learn.”