I remember the second half of the 3rd quarter from last year. The weather isn’t the only dampening thing in life, and you can sense struggle in many people’s lives. But the students themselves stay resilient in a way too, looking for more to do. A student quietly requested another silent class, his tone sounded like he wanted “to get things done.” Another mentioned the bastilla we had made at the beginning of the quarter. I love how the students really do seem to know what the next step should be.
Then came the next question, as we were plating: What does “garnish” mean? So we got into garnish.
…a quote from one of our students this week. We forget that life has become increasingly noisy and distractive. And we noticed noisy and distractive class habits developing already in this second week of the quarter. “What are we going to make today?” and other questions were becoming conversational ice-breakers, and it was easier to stop and talk with friends, or ask where something was, rather than applying one’s self to the task on hand. This is a default human tendency in general that I’ve seen in some of my most qualified new employees too.
In the workplace, conversation and communication can be two very different things and we were struggling with how to teach this in an active classroom (with sharp knives and hot surfaces). Requesting students to read a prep list wasn’t the answer either. Not only that, what if our students started asking questions non-stop while on a job shadow in a restaurant? That would not work.
So one day this week, we had a silent class. To make it more playful, we added music (thank you Greg, for the great playlist) and had a few instructional tent cards to provide lead in. We kept the tasks simple and safe, rolling dumplings, and were amazed by the efficiency and togetherness that the students created.
- Tri-color Lasagne with Housemade Pasta & Sauces
- Vegetarian Tuscan Soup
- Mock-Caeser Salad
What also came out of it was that first glimmer of hospitality. We sent a plate up to our main office and yes, the positive cheers from up there hit home. Immediate sense of accomplishment and more.
When someone likes your food, it goes straight to your heart, right next to how it feels when someone cooks for you. It can hook you into becoming a chef or loving to work in a restaurant. But even if it doesn’t, everyone deserves to have and then in turn be able to create these moments.
It is easy when looking for a job to center around what one can do. But what ends up mattering more to an employer is how you will work, much more than what you can do. Today we started class talking about pride of work, being proud of how you work as a way to gaining the kind of experience and work ethic that is useful in any job. When it comes to the less glamorous tasks such as cleaning, once one student starts jumping in, the rest soon realize it is not a big deal and cleaning as a group goes pretty quickly. Luckily, with cooking in class we have the bonus that they can see and taste the results of their labor — a quicker connection to that kind of pride in how we work, a tangible chance to get to a sense of accomplishment. Pride of work comes before much of what we think needs to happen to get a job and the only way to get it is to do something, anything and to do it the best you can.
This week, instead of telling my students what we were going to make, I let them take a turn. We sat around a cluster of cookbooks based on soul food, cajun and creole cooking on Monday, with my thinking we would use this opportunity to get into menu and “prep” planning. It turned into the unexpected, which is one of the reasons I was eager to jump into this job in the first place.
The students not only learned that we can’t throw it all into a bowl on the last day and have everything we want ready to eat, but more importantly, that all this wonderful cooking they have wanted to do takes experience and attention to detail too. It brought up the subject on how much of authentic American cooking is at risk of being lost. We have so many recipes, but which one shows you how to make your own family’s version? You have to find out from your own family. One student in my 3rd period class took the reins on documenting a recipe with her family’s real macaroni and cheese, so we documented it while we made it. It allowed us to get beyond the “oh you just make it” and show ourselves the kind of detail one needs to know to effectively pass along a family recipe. When she saw the recipe in print (she chose the name “Smackin’ Mac N’ Cheese”), you could see her pride. It helped them also realize that while the exact measurements are not that important all the time, understanding how everything goes together so that it will turn out the way you want, is important. And that it is worth documenting.
For my 2nd period class, we were again lucky, this time with one of our volunteers – she grew up in Louisiana and when she saw the Jambalaya recipe we chose, she offered to write up her own family recipe. Pure gold! Again, very simple, but it helped the students recognize the value of each of our family’s heritage and that sharing recipes is a common ground to relate to people we don’t even know very well.
The meals? They came out well, perhaps not as well as if grandma cooked them, but this time, that made it even better.
Origami in a culinary arts class? We needed some hands-on activity, and origami is great as long as you are prepared for first timers. Often there will be a hidden origami pro in one student which can help too. I’m already running into students being organized enough to be able to produce a lot of output and it gets challenging to find ways to keep their hands busy without ending up with a 5 gallon bucket of chopped carrots after half an hour. I was hoping origami would help with this. It can when you have enough “buy in” and the project is doable. Having a cutting project (such as trimming parchment circles for steaming baskets) is also good, but you need pairs of scissors.
b) We made hot cereal. Many students have never had whole oats before and it is close enough in flavor to rolled oats that they could compare and contrast – and several asked when we could have hot oats again.
c) We put things away and organized a grain and bean shelf. I love watching the discovery that happens as someone takes ownership of their project. In the picture at right of some of our jars, this student’s labeling was essentially correct – it is a wonderful reminder about experience, generations and our changing lifestyles.
d) We got into hummus and pita bread. As long as you have a baking stone and get it up to temperature, pita bread is more satisfying than flat bread because it bakes quickly and watching it puff up in the oven is immediately gratifying. Roll the circles of dough out paper thin for this result. There was more discovery as students blended or pounded the “seeds” of chick peas into a familiar spread with garlic, sesame tahini and lemon juice. Many had never tasted it before and we compared it to classic tomato sauce on our freshly baked pita. We had to make more pita dough for later in the week.
Next time? This could be broken down into more lengthy projects but for our class these quick glimmers were good ways to expose without over saturating. It helped keep the curiosity alive in the room.