Fifty Minute Classroom

Dec 14, 2018, 1:55
Teaching International Cuisine Through Holiday Traditions
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Teaching International Cuisine Through Holiday Traditions

Students take the instructing lead when discussing and teaching their own holiday food traditions.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

Last year at the holidays, I wrote two articles: Quotes for Culinary Students and Teaching Serving for Holiday Events.

This year I am giving you ideas for making your teaching a bit easier this month. One time I spouted out in class, “Sometimes the easiest way is just the easiest way.” That’s now become one of my standard lines since students want to complicate things. In this article, I am going to show you the easy way to teach about holiday events in different cultures.

I have long promoted shifting classroom teaching to the students, either individually or in groups, as much as possible. When students teach all or part of a class they first learn the material themselves. They develop their communication skills and work toward reducing shyness. They practice their public speaking. They also learn culinary management skills of planning, ordering ahead of time, time management, supervising others, etc. And, most importantly, they develop a new respect for how hard it is to teach. Students become much more attentive after a stint as a student teacher. 

I frequently hand over my class at the holiday season to a student or students to teach about holiday foods of their culture. (Note, many students have multiple cultures in their families, and you should decide if they should present multi-cultures or to choose one.) You can make the assignment as easy or as complicated as your class time allows. If you don’t have much time, have the students teach a cookie recipe from their culture. If you have more time, you can have the students teach each other a holiday dessert (other than cookies), a side dish, soup, entrée, etc.

You can approach this a couple different ways:

  1. Have a student (or team of students) teach the whole class. For example, one day your student teacher(s) could teach everyone how to make Mexican holiday cookies and the next day a different person or team teaches Swedish cookies. 
  2. Have a student lead a small team (let’s say between two to four students) in how to make cookies from her or his culture. Each team presents their work to the class at the end of the period. The next class day, a different person or team shows that same group a different cookie from a different culture, which is likewise presented at the end of the class.

You can make this into a flipped classroom exercise if you don’t have much cultural diversity in your class. Assign a student (or team of students) a particular culture and include researching the culture, ordering the product, cooking the cookie or dish, and presenting a culture talk to the class. Please see Teaching International Cuisines in 50 Minutes for other ideas about how to teach international dishes.

There are a few things you need to monitor in doing this:

  1. Anytime you have a student teaching, you lose a bit of control over what is being taught and said. Watch for inappropriate or disparaging comments. These can happen from the student who is teaching, but more likely from another student in the class. Comments can range from: “My culture is the best,” to “That sounds so stupid,” to “Yuck, I don’t want to eat that.” Cultural comments may possibly get worse. You know your class and who the trouble makers are or those students that will say something without thinking about what it means to others. You must control your class even when a student or group of students might be teaching.
  2. Many school districts have rules on teaching about holiday events. You need to make sure your assignments don’t violate these rules.
  3. There are schools that don’t allow the preparation and/or eating of sweets on campus for public policy reasons. You need to make sure your holiday assignments don’t violate these rules. If this is an issue at your school, one possible idea would be to have each group or each person teaching prepare a vegetable side dish from their culture.

Have a wonderful holiday break. I will end this year’s worth of articles with a teaser. My January article will start off with a quote from another culinary instructor: “Everything can be fixed in a kitchen except burnt and stupid.”


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.