Fifty Minute Classroom

Oct 17, 2019, 6:16
Modernizing Curriculum Requires Change
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Modernizing Curriculum Requires Change

03 August 2019

Teaching necessary skills for today’s graduates may mean swapping quinoa for rice or Brussels sprouts for peas and carrots in lesson plans.

By Chef Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

Let’s start with a riddle: How many culinary instructors does it take to change a lightbulb?
The answer: Change? CHANGE? We don’t change!

Whether your class is designed to teach students vocational-level cooking or personal cooking, the culinary world is changing. Are your lesson plans changing too?

Let’s start with classes designed to teach personal cooking. Is your class up-to-date on new nutritional standards? Do you teach how to make foods from scratch in short order? Do you teach foods that can compete with phone-based apps that deliver fast food in a few minutes? Are you teaching how to take pre-made or packaged foods and have your students add or modify them to make them healthier, more appealing, etc.? Are you teaching new plant-based substitutes?

The goal of teaching vocational culinary classes throughout the country was, and almost universally still is, fine dining. I wrote in Fine Dining is Fine but There are Other “Fine” Places to Work as Well, fine dining is not the be all and end all of where students are employed fresh from our programs. In today’s world, particularly in the larger metropolitan areas, many (if not most) of our graduating vocational students are working outside fine dining. Do you know where most of your students work after graduation? Do you know where they are in one year? Three years? Five? Are you teaching the skills they need for graduation and employment in three to five years?

Are you teaching what jobs currently require? I have the honor of sitting on several advisory committees for other culinary programs in the San Francisco Bay area. I recently went to a curriculum review for one of them. Teaching how to cook quenelles accounted for more than one week of the program. Learning about all Asian cooking accounted for just over one day! (I did an internet search and found just 172,000 hits for quenelles in the San Francisco Bay area. A similar search for Asian restaurants yielded 45 million, over 260 times as many hits!) When I asked the program director why so much time was spent on quenelles the response was, “Well, that’s what I did in school in Europe in the 60’s.”

That might be an extreme example, but I bet if you looked closely at what you teach, you will find that much is out of date. I had several friendly conversations over breakfast, lunch, and beverages at the recent CAFÉ Leadership Conference. Although most instructors were realizing they had to change their programs, a number of instructors argued that, before you can teach modern cooking techniques, students needed to know the older skills. I never did get a clear answer on why that was the case. The most common answer was the same as the director in the example, “That’s how I was taught.”

I have a few questions for you if you feel you must teach students the old ways so they can function:

  • Do you really want a pilot who started her training in wooden biplanes to fly you across the Atlantic in a 777?
  • Did your students need to learn how to use a crank phone and operator, then a payphone, then a rotary phone before they learned how to use their cell phones?
  • Are doctors in medical school being taught bloodletting and leeches before they are taught how to do a transfusion?
  • Did your students have to crank start a car or even use a standard transmission to learn how to drive to school?

Finally, you must now realize that you were taught culinary arts after changes were made to your own instructors’ curriculum and lesson plans. Did your education include how to cook squirrel, opossum, porcupine, raccoon, muskrat, woodchuck, beaver, armadillo, or bear? NO! But they are all covered on pages 512 to 518 of the 1980 edition of “Joy of Cooking.” You aren’t currently teaching any of these items, so in the last 40 years you have changed along with changes to culinary lesson plans.

I realize the school year is about ready to start and you may be thinking you don’t have time to change your curriculum now. Here’s the key point, I am not asking you to change your curriculum, I am asking you to look at modernizing it. For example:

  • What vegetables are you teaching? Are you teaching with peas and carrots, or with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower?
  • Instead of teaching rice, what about the same skills for quinoa?
  • Instead of ground beef, what about Impossible Burgers or Ultimate Burgers for grilling class? (This will need some budget adjustment.)
  • Instead of rolls, what about flat breads or homemade tortillas?
  • Take a look at the sauces you are teaching, and look at the sauces being served in the local restaurants, country clubs, hospitals, corporate dining facilities, etc. See how you can better align yours with theirs.

Like everything else in the world, we need to evolve as culinary instructors or risk becoming obsolete. You don’t have to do a major metamorphosis right now. You don’t need to jettison your entire curriculum. But you do need to look at your lesson plans and see what you need to modernize and still stay within your curriculum. If you need some thoughts on how to do this, I will end with a plug. Take a look at the 100 article index of 50 Minute Classroom. Finally, if you haven’t been to a CAFÉ Leadership Conference, you should attend because there are always multiple discussions of developing trends and ideas for instructors of all types.


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.