On Teaching Chef-ness

I have had the opportunity to teach a unique set of classes this term.  I have the first term students for Soups, Stocks, and Sauces a couple days a week and the fourth term for European and International Fusion for a long day with dinner service.  In the past, I had mostly second term students for garde manger and dining room service.  I want to share some thoughts on how the students change in three terms, my approach to instruction, and wrap it all up with some thoughts on how to tell if you have a little professional chef inside you. (If a dirty comment came to your head just now, you are on the right track!)

This was my first term as the soups instructor.  I have had term one students in the past, but only for a wine and beverage class.  That means this was my first opportunity to take a new class into the kitchen.  Our first day, I listed off some prep and projects that needed to be done, clapped my hands and said, “Ok, let’s do it!”.  Nobody moved.  It’s a small class, only four people.  As I took a moment to contemplate my next move, I noticed the same look on all of their face…Fear!  “So, nobody has cut mirepoix, yet?”, I asked.  “Chef, we haven’t even used our knives yet.”, was the response.  I realized instantly that I would need to reconsider my teaching method.  I walked them through the recipes and procedures the first few weeks.  As they get their legs under them, I give them more slack and opportunity to work through recipes alone.

I consider it such an honor to have the responsibility to break these students in.   There is core curriculum for all the classes, the ideals, concepts, and skills that need to be taught.  Beyond that, I set my own goals for all my classes that tend to be a little more esoteric at times.   In order to be considered a successful class I want these students to head to the next term able to make a great stock in their sleep, be able to create a pan sauce from memory, to make a hollandaise without notes, and build a wonderful soup from the leftovers in the cooler.  While much of this requires reading, studying, and memorizing recipes, a good chunk of it relies on a natural instinct, dedication, and passion for perfection.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have the fourth term students on Wednesdays.  These students are in their final semester of classes and working at their internships.  It is remarkable how much has changed in these individuals since beginning the program.  My role here becomes on of a facilitator.  We learn about cuisines from around the world, how to build recipes and plan menus, and ready for them the “real” world.  The projects are more in depth and a student leads production and service.  I have a firmer, no nonsense approach to this class.  My expectations are for them to adapt to changes in ingredients, service numbers, and other crazy curveballs you see in the kitchen.  This is my last chance to know that we, as instructors, are sending out quality workers to the workforce.  This is twofold.  First, it assures the student a better chance of success in their culinary adventures.   Secondly, as a school, we have a standard and reputation to uphold.

I consider it an honor to be a part of the education of the next generation of culinary artists.  I take it quite seriously while having so much fun in the process.  Seeing these folks graduate, earn respectable jobs, and create masterpieces are the most wonderful rewards I have or will attain in my career.  More on teaching and being a chef to come!  Thanks for hanging out.


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