As instructors, we often think we are not doing much. But, says Chef Weiner, we are actually changing the world with every student.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
In May 2014 I shared a graduation speech for you to give to your students. One year later I think it is time to take a break from my “how to” articles of recent months on ordering, blanching, measuring, etc., and have us all take a moment to realize the impact we have on the world as culinary instructors. This applies to high schools, culinary academies, community colleges and four-year institutions.
Yes, the modern culinary world gravitates out from us. In the previous era, which didn’t end all that long ago, learning on the job or being an apprentice was the norm.
Today, almost everyone gets some form of culinary training before hitting the terra-cotta tiles of a commercial kitchen. We as instructors have a duty to send them out into the world with basic skills, a passion for cooking and, more importantly, knowing how to work. (As I frequently tell people, I don’t teach people how to cook; I teach them how to work in a commercial kitchen.)
I got the idea for this article after reading one of my teenage son’s favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. In the book, a college graduate visits every Tuesday his favorite professor from college who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
The thrust of the book is that students learn more from their professors and instructors than the technical aspects of the subject they are teaching. They learn how to listen, how to be a good, productive member of society, how to work with and care for others, and the other basic building blocks of being a good person in today’s world. In one part of the book the author states that he learned how to slow down and notice things—to be aware of others around him and their impact on each other’s lives—which he felt was more important than any fact or figure he learned in all of his other courses.
While contemplating the above, I saw a rerun of “Big Bang Theory” (which is really the only show I watch on television). Bob Newhart is making his first appearance on the show (he did three) as Professor Proton, a character who taught an afterschool science program for kids on television. Professor Proton is feeling depressed because after that TV show, no one in the scientific world took him seriously as a scientist. Leonard and Sheldon (two physicists who watched the show as kids) console him by telling him that he inspired countless young people to enter the fields of science. “Their discoveries are your discoveries.”
We often focus on the problem students. We often focus on paperwork. (I know I get bogged down on that one way too much). We as instructors often think that we are not doing much. In fact, we are changing the world with every student. The successes of our students are our successes. The achievements of our students are, to a large extent, our achievements. Every dish that our students turn out on the line relates to us. To paraphrase from The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” every bread they bake, every mousse they make, can be traced back to what you taught them.
Our students tend to be the ones who are not academically inclined. They usually aren’t taking AP Calculus or Economics. Most of my students’ tests are way below grade and age level. But with the training we give them as culinary instructors, they can achieve. They hold their heads high knowing that you have taught them a skill to use not only at home, but in the work place. Your mentorship and guidance of the essential skills of life (the job skills and work skills) will live with them long after the memory of what happened on May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland or the formula for solving a quadratic equation.
History teachers teach the dates of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Magna Carta. You teach them that no matter who they are, they must learn to work together, to treat each other well, and to help and look out for each other. Your students will probably forget those dates, but will remember your lessons for the rest of their days.
I am certainly not alone in these thoughts. A few quotes to prove it:
“Passing knowledge on to students is just a part of what the finest teachers do—the best are those who influence their student’s social and emotional development as well as their self-confidence.”
—California State University of Fullerton, Titan Magazine, Summer 2008
“The goal of education is to make Windows into Mirrors, and Mirrors into Windows.”
—Student speech, 8th grade graduation, St. Gregory’s, June 3, 2011
“Now, I’m obligated to keep my profession going by teaching and giving. I can’t give up, and ... I can’t goof up.”
—Chef Joe Eidem, CEC, ACE, HGT, AAC, named Mentor of the Year for 2014 by the Nevada Restaurant Association, upon receiving the American Culinary Federation’s National Professionalism Award
“The essence of becoming a great chef is becoming a great teacher.”
—Chef Gordon Ramsay on “Hell’s Kitchen,” June 10, 2008
Remember all of this the next time someone says, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
And, if you were hoping this article would give you some more pointers on how to teach cooking principles and techniques in a 50-minute context, then please join my seminar at CAFÉ’s 11th-annual Leadership Conference in Niagara Falls in June.
See you then.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation.