Fifty Minute Classroom

Sep 18, 2021, 10:17
Beginning the School Year with Engaging Activities
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Beginning the School Year with Engaging Activities

09 August 2021

Chef Adam Weiner provides instructors with game and discussion ideas for engaging students from the first day.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

It’s a new school year and it is amazing how much has changed in the last two years. I am taking the opportunity to provide you with a thorough outline of what you can do in the first several days (or even weeks) of class to ease you and your students into this new beginning.

One idea is to play a game. Look at a past article I wrote for the beginning of the 2018 school year, “First Class Game Reveals an Understanding of Pride and Cooking Passion.” The game is free and a great first-day-of-class participation exercise. (The ending of the article discusses prevention ideas to keep students from dropping out. I respectfully suggest you take a moment to look at that as well.)

If you instruct a vocational-level class, talk to your students about the difference between cooking professionally and cooking for friends and family.

Here are several key points that differentiate professional cooking from personal cooking:

  • If the chef or boss asks you to do something, ask yourself three questions: Is it illegal? Is it immoral? Is it dangerous? If the answer to all three is no, the only thing you can say is, “Yes, Chef.”

  • If you don’t know how to do what the chef is asking, you say, “Yes Chef. Please show me how you would like it done.” You would rather embarrass yourself a little by asking for help than spend a lot of time and waste product.

  • Do what the chef says, not what you think the chef wants. If you are not sure what the chef wants, then ask for clarification. Do not presume.

  • “My bad” is not an option. No one will pay you for excuses. They want you to do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it.
  • A well-run commercial kitchen will earn between $4 to $7 net profit (before tax) on $100 of sales. Students need to realize every dollar he or she wastes severely cuts into the company’s profit. In other words, if they give a pizza to a friend or burn a hamburger, they have wiped out over $100 in sales. Read my article ”Teaching Basic Food Service Economics to ALL.

  • What do you call a cook who doesn’t watch food costs? Unemployed. Besides the economic concern of wasting food, there are social and environmental issues involved with food waste.
  • If you have nothing to do in a commercial kitchen then find something to clean.

  • Clean as you go!
  • Arriving 15 minutes early is late. You need to arrive early to change into your uniform, hit the restroom, read the prep sheet, and be at your station ready to go five minutes early. (Note: Under many state laws employees are not allowed to do this. Tell your students to find out what the policy is at the place where they are working.)
  • You need to be at work every day. If you are not sick, you are expected to be at work every day you are scheduled.

  • Remember the seven Ps of professional cooking:
    Planning
    Preparation (mise en place)
    Presentation
    Passion (note: passion means to cook and work hard)
    Pride in what you prepare
    Presentation (you eat first with your eyes)
    Profit (if the business doesn’t make a profit you will be gone)

  • You are not being hired to cook, but to work. Work will include cooking, but cooking isn’t the most important factor. Don’t believe me? Review the rules above and note the point directly above is the only reference to cooking.

Start with the basics—mise en place will set you free

I just finished reading the book “Work Clean” by Dan Charnas. It is a time management book for the corporate world. The book’s premise is that people working in the corporate world should adopt the mise en place practices used for generations of cooks and chefs around the world. (He includes mental attitude, listening, and answering questions as part of mise en place.)

Even before the book, I would start each of my cohorts by telling students that preparation (aka mise en place) is everything. I literally tell them that “Mise en place will set you free!” and then go on to explain mise en place is for both equipment and food.

I use the example of watching someone make a pizza in a pizzeria to demonstrate the power of mise en place. An order for a pizza comes in. The pizza maker pulls out a dough ball, flattens it, ladles on the sauce, puts on the cheese and toppings, and using a pizza peel puts it in the preheated oven. When it is ready, the pizza maker uses the nearby peel to remove the pizza, put it on a handy plate, and then use the pizza wheel to cut it. The person making the pizza basically didn’t even move. Just a few minutes from the order coming in until the pizza goes to the table. I point out that everything was prepared ahead of time.

To illustrate the importance of the mise en place, I ask my students what would happen in this situation: An order comes in, the pizza maker combines flour, water, salt, yeast in a bowl mixing and kneads it for about 20 minutes and then waits an hour to let it rise. After the dough was ready, this person finds a can opener, looks for tomato sauce and tomato paste, hunts down the spices, and then realizes there were no clean pots to make the sauce. So, putting everything down, the cook washes the pot and simmers the sauce for one hour. After ladling the sauce on the pizza, the pizza maker grates the cheese and slices the pepperoni and turns on the oven. I ask students how long would this process take? “Several hours,” is their usual reply and they are right.

To facilitate cooking in 50 minutes or so of class time, instructors often do all the mise en place themselves and we need to stop. We won't be with students at their first jobs, so we better stop spoiling them now. I recommend a two-step process:

  • When you give a demonstration at the beginning of school, don’t just demonstrate the technique, but demonstrate the mise en place too. Set up your mise en place (equipment and food, pre-heat ovens, plates for service, etc.) Then before you allow each team to cook, tell the teams they must bring their mise en place to you and compare every item on their tray against yours.
  • Create a reality drill. Give your students a recipe and give them time to read it and get ALL of their mise en place together before they start cooking. Then when cooking begins tell them they are not allowed to move more than two feet in any direction (or larger/smaller as your kitchen allows) and cannot open any drawers, cupboards, or get anything out of the refrigerator or storeroom. I guarantee almost every group, at a minimum, will be missing two or three things, one of which will be the serving plate!

A teaser for the next several months: I will write about the legend of the pot roast and why you must set your students up for failure - at least once in a while.


Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.