Playing the game What Would Your Last Meal Be? reveals much about students and their background while teaching a valuable culinary lesson.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
During the summer, the teacher side of our brain turns to the question of what to do on the first day of class. I have a game for you to play. The benefits of this game include:
- It’s free
- It forces your students to realize meals are more than just about eating
- It gives you the opportunity to get to know the students better
- It gives the students the opportunity to get to know each other better
- It helps you teach about different cuisines throughout the course
- It helps you teach about passion and pride in cooking
The game I recommend is the age-old question: What would your last meal be? Chefs and instructors have been playing this game for many years. Now it’s time to have young culinary students play it as well. If you ask your students to plan their last meal they might think you are being creepy. So, let’s disguise the game. Here’s what you are going to tell the students:
“NASA contacted you. They need a young and promising cook to take charge of the kitchen on the first Mars space colony. You will be flying out next week and likely never returning. NASA wants to treat you and some guests to a going-away meal on Earth. What would you eat? Where would you eat it? With whom would you eat and why?”
Give your students time to think about their answers (it is even better if you can assign this a day or two before your class starts if you give pre-starting day assignments) and then have everyone take notes. Another option is to provide a handout for students to write down the classmate’s name in the left column and four columns to the right labeled what, where, who and why.
As you go around the room, have each student note what every other student says. Then, at the end, briefly discuss the results. I suspect you will hear a few people want a three star meal on the French Rivera with a famous Hollywood person. You may hear about more people who want traditional family food from their culture to be eaten with their families at a relative’s house. I use that information to show my students they already know that food, to taste good, needs to be made with pride (or love, if you will) and they must have passion about their cooking. There will be dishes that perhaps a few students in your class have never heard of (for example, musubi from Hawaii). When this happens, you and the student who mentioned the dish can describe it for the class and thus other students gain exposure to different cuisines on the first day of class. As the semester and school year goes on, try including these different/uncommon dishes in your class. Also, when you make them refer to the first day.
You also need to be prepared for students to ask you about your last meal as well. I will tell you mine to get you rolling. I have three depending on my mood and what I feel that particular cohort of students needs to learn about passion and pride. What is interesting is these restaurants are very different in menu, high-end vs. low-end, and location. In random order:
- Arnauds in New Orleans. Dinner would be the potato soufflés, gumbo, and fish of the day Pontchartrain style. Dinner would be with my wife. This is my favorite high-end, fancy restaurant. The atmosphere, the excellent team service, the Dixieland Band, the museum and old ballrooms upstairs make this 100-year-old restaurant a must do. Oh yes, dinner would start with French 75’s to drink.
- The Crab Cooker in Newport Beach, California. Quirky, iconic, plain and simple seafood. They are pioneers of mesquite cooking. I’ve been going there since I was five and nothing has changed. There are a lot of memories for me in that place. My guest would be my son because my daughter isn’t into seafood and my wife goes there because she loves me and not because she likes it. Be prepared to wait for a table. When Richard Nixon was in office—long before Watergate—he wanted to go there for dinner. They said he would have to stand in line like everyone else. (Nixon hailed from the same county where The Crab Cooker is located.) I would order their famous clam chowder, the fish kebab with their unique—never had anywhere else—potatoes done on the mesquite grill. I use this to teach my students that food doesn’t have to be trendy to be in demand.
- Hamura Saimin House in Lihue on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii. This place is such a dive they don’t even have their own website. Half the sign blew off in Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and has not been replaced. One of the best meals anywhere in the world for under $8. I teach students food is associated with memories and this one has many for me. My wife and I bought a retirement-to-be condo in Kauai within walking distance. I show pictures of Hamura’s to my students. They are usually shocked when they see pictures of my choice for my last meal. I use this as a springboard to illustrate food doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to be good. I would go with my whole family. The food is as simple as it gets and as good as you can possibly imagine. Basically, all that is served is the same noodle soup with different ingredients and the world’s best passion fruit chiffon pie. I would order the special saimin (the combination noodle bowl), along with a chicken teriyaki stick and a piece of pie to share with my wife.
If you have students who object to this game saying it is pointless, stupid, or worse, you can have them look up the book “My Last Supper” by M. Duena. It sells for nearly $50 at Barnes and Noble and plays the same game you just played with your class.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Ella Brennan, who passed away May 31, 2018. She was a true pioneer in hospitality management and was a role model for both the women in her class as well as for all students. I recommend reading “Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace” published in 2016. It would be great extra credit reading for your classes and should be required for all students who want to go into the hospitality field as a profession.
(Note: Some time ago, I led a panel discussion at a CAFÉ Leadership Conference on common classroom problems. One instructor explained a problem that occurred at the beginning of the year. She said about one-third of her class droped out by the end of the first month. Her students complained about too much academic work and not enough cooking. It turned out that before she allowed them to make anything she covered food safety, kitchen safety, measuring, kitchen math, etc. I suggested she whip out a little easy cooking—like chocolate chip cookies or even yogurt parfaits--in combination with the academic projects to keep the students interested. If you would like to know more, look at the 50 Minute Classroom article on Motivation.)
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. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.