Think Tank

Aug 17, 2019, 6:06
Preparing Students with a Thirst for Knowledge

Preparing Students with a Thirst for Knowledge

31 May 2018

The manner in which curriculum is delivered should set the stage for the development of knowledge workers.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

There is tremendous gratification in working with your hands to create a wonderful dish. It is the hands and backs of hard working farmers, fisherman, ranchers, cheese makers, butchers, and bakers that give every cook the opportunity to model the ingredients grown and raised into special food for appreciative guests. Having the opportunity to create and build those dishes is why we chose to become people of food.

Our culinary programs have been sculpted to systematically build the skills necessary for every cook to become stewards of great ingredients and creators of those flavorful, attractive menu items. This is what culinary faculty members do best. Teaching and training young culinarians to develop knife skills, understanding cooking methods, build flavor memory, and discover how to present food for all human senses is the foundation of every culinary program.

There are, however, many other aspects of becoming an accomplished cook and eventually chef. Certainly, cooks will need to understand the financial operation of a restaurant, the complexity of supervising others, the challenges of marketing a restaurant in a highly competitive marketplace, and the ability to build a menu concept that is appealing to a variety of customers. Without these skills a cook will be limited in their ability to reach specific career goals. This is the next phase of skill development that will allow a young cook to aspire to the position of chef.

It is expected that a chef will have the answers to a wide array of questions. Many questions posed will have less to do with cooking and more to do with the business of restaurants and a vision for the future. Knowledge is what truly separates the successful chef from an accomplished cook. It is knowledge that builds confidence in the chef and his or her ability to lead. 

As educators we must consider how to incorporate a thirst for and an understanding of how to continually build this base of knowledge. Our curriculum and the manner with which we deliver that curriculum can and should set the stage for the development of knowledge workers.

Decades ago Peter Drucker predicted the next paradigm shift in the workforce would be toward a knowledge-based economy. Success would be based on how much a person or a company knew or how much information they had access to. Although we have not fully lived up to that prediction yet, it is apparent this is the direction we are moving in.

The dictionary defines a knowledge worker as, “A person whose main capital is knowledge.” It continues by citing examples of scientists, designers, architects, physicians, lawyers, academics, and other white-collar workers. However, this definition fails to recognize that Drucker’s prediction went way beyond those professions. Knowledge workers will take leadership roles in all businesses, especially those that have long been viewed as blue collar. Chefs and cooks, farmers and cattle ranchers, construction workers and electricians, are now far more effective in their jobs when they view the acquisition of knowledge and/or access to information as important to their field.

What is interesting is that accumulated knowledge and the ability to access valuable information related to a job are assets that people carry with them – wherever they choose to work. These skill sets are even more important than the list of positions on a resume. What you know relates to what you are able to do and how you are able to create, innovate, and problem solve. All other things equal – knowledge is the most important advantage.

So, what can we do to foster this thirst for knowledge and information in our classrooms and within our curriculum? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Encourage and Structure Reading in Your Classroom
    Assign reading beyond cookbooks and cooking texts. Assign reading on topics that have a connection to food. Push students to see the broader picture. Assign Michael Pollen, Dan Barber, Upton Sinclair, Danny Meyer, and Peter Kaminsky. 
  • Debate Issues and Topics that Impact the Food Business
    Your students represent the next generation of chefs who will inherit the challenges our generation failed to resolve. Talk about these challenges and encourage your students to debate (in class) potential solutions.
  • Assign Research Projects
    Make your students use the library and reference sources beyond a Google search. Build research projects that encourage them to work in teams and develop collaborative opinions.
  • Incorporate Case Studies in Your Program
    Learning from another company’s challenges is a fantastic tool. Apply what they are learning in menu planning, human resource management, cost controls, and marketing to live case studies of other restaurant or food related businesses. Discuss their assessment in class and recognize their approach.
  • Challenge Your Students’ Opinions and Decisions by Asking “Why?”
    When a student or group states an agreed upon conclusion make sure you challenge their thought process and ask why they came to that conclusion, why they approached a solution in particular way, and what made them go in one direction vs. another.
  • Bring in Outside Speakers and Chefs who are Pushing the Envelope of Tradition
    Shy away from always inviting chefs and speakers who share your way of thinking, your style of cooking, or your preferences when it comes to teaching a certain method of cooking. Bring in opposing views to demonstrate to students there is frequently more than one right answer.
  • Embrace Technology and Analytics
    Even if you are uncomfortable with technology as a teacher it is time to put aside your apprehensions, build a new bag of tricks, realize how technology can be a friend and not a foe, and then encourage students to use it to move forward and learn in a different way. Case in point: you can either ban cell phones in your kitchens or you can embrace them by encouraging students to make Instagram worthy food and document demonstrations and processes for future reference.

Tomorrow’s knowledge workers are sitting in your classrooms right now.

Great resources:

“Culinary Intelligence” by: Peter Kaminsky

“The Underground Culinary Tour” by: Damian Mogavero

“The Flavor Matrix” by: James Briscoine

“Cooked” by: Michael Pollan

“Setting the Table” by: Danny Meyer 

“The Third Plate” by: Dan Barber


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..