Welcome to Culinary Concepts. You are about to enter a world within a world. School like you have never known it before. For the past 10 years or so, you have been groomed and programmed to become a cog in the great American machine. You have been told that if you buy the right gadget, or car, or clothes, that you would be considered cool, desirable or successful. That happiness is something that you can purchase. You have been told, that if you sit in the right seat, check the right box and recite the correct passage, doors will open for you and you can get rich. You have been shown by our politicians, celebrities and athletes that if something bad happens, if you make a mistake, you can blame other people and avoid taking responsibility. You have been told that if you know the right people, say the right things, buy the right products, color within the lines, and don’t rock the boat, that the world is your oyster, because you are a valuable pearl. What if I told you that almost all of that is hogwash. Almost all. You ARE a pearl. The world IS your oyster, but the rest of that is, well, debatable. More on that later.
I am going to assume that you signed up for this class because you like to cook. Or because you thought the chef life is a glamorous one. Or maybe you signed up because someone told you it would be good for you, maybe you didn’t really sign up- someone signed you up. Maybe you are here because your girlfriend/ boyfriend/ buddy, BFF, signed up and you just want to be where they are. Perhaps you are here because you figured there would be a fair amount of eating, and who doesn’t like to eat, right? Regardless of how you got here, you are here now. I want to make sure that you know how to make the most of it. How to turn lemons into lemonade, so-to-speak. Thats’ if this was a back up plan. If you are here on purpose, because you have a passion for cooking and the food life, and you like lemons and lemonade already, you won’t need any convincing. None-the-less, this is not going to be like any class you have had before. I guarantee the methods of learning and proving your knowledge, here, is not like anything you have done in the past. I want you to get as much out of it as you can. Therefore, here are some tips, some rules, some expectations, some basic information that will help you negotiate through this school year.
Stay engaged. I would have to say, that is number 1! If you are engaged in what we are doing, you will learn. Show up with an open mind, a pencil or pen and a notebook. Listen to the Chef, the film, the guest. Take notes on the lecture, or the demonstration, or the chapter, or the film. Ask questions that are pertinent to the topic and keep the conversation moving forward. You are here 2 hours of each day, for 2 years. That is roughly 360 hours of instruction and experience you can bank on, which you can draw from and use when you move into that wider universe of employment and self support and exploration of your destiny.
“My destiny? Really?” I know, that may sound dramatic. Maybe a little overblown and exaggerated. Cooking as ‘my destiny?’. No. Not cooking, exactly. You’re school career has been about laying the groundwork for you to grow into the person you are to become. To be able to be engaged in your own life, like I am asking you to be engaged in this class. In a year or 2 you will be graduating high school. To some that means getting a diploma to prove you have completed a course of study. You will get one of those, and those do open doors, but, I am using a different definition. To graduate is to change by degrees, from something to something else. I am saying you are about to change from a person who is on the learning and receiving end of things, to a person who produces and shares out to others. From being a kid in the house being provided for, to being the provider, at least for yourself, perhaps eventually for others. This class is not only going to help you be a good cook and restaurant worker, it will help you be a stand up person, who can look the world in the face and say, bring it. The tools you will learn in here will serve you the rest of your life, and they are not all about cooking. They are skills learned by practice. Attributes. It is engagement, perseverance, diligence, hard work, disappointment, resilience. Showing up when you really don’t feel like it. Selflessly helping others. Asking for help. Doing your best. There are no written tests for these ‘attributes’. You cannot check a box saying ‘yes, I am a team player”. I mean, you can, but the proof is on the field, in the kitchen, in the classroom when you reach out and help a classmate. When you produce something with other people that you could not have done on your own. Some of our focus in here is on the skills that are tested in the real world, not on paper. Sure, we have tests. Menu costing, sanitation, and we do some writing, but all of that is to support your performance in the field, on the job.
Speaking of ‘on the job’, many of you have not had your first employment experience yet. Some may have always worked, paid or not. I used to drag a lawn mower around my neighborhood when I was a kid, mowing lawns for 5 bucks. I have had students who had to miss class in order to help their parents with the cows, or the crops, kids who have worked since they could walk. And I have had students in my class who have claimed to never have worked. Never helped to stack wood, or rake the yard. Never helped wash the family car or even do the dishes. Thats ok. We will learn how to work in here. Because, like it or not, you are going to have to do something to provide for yourself. Remember, earlier when I mentioned you were being groomed to become a wheel in the cog of the American system? Well, this is kinda that. But not entirely. People have had to offer something in exchange for what they don’t have since we were cave dwellers. Some people were better at making arrow tips than others, some tanned skins for clothes or shelter, but EVERYBODY contributed something. Being engaged in this class will help you build a skill set to offer others either for pay or for passage or as exchange for room and board (that means shelter and food).
Are you beginning to see where I am going with this? You are not just going to learn how to cook. You are going to learn how to be on time, how to present yourself, how to be prepared. More of those things that cannot be tested on paper, checking boxes. You don’t want to be a ‘worker bee’? Get creative and come up with a plan to produce your own line of product or service to sell or to share. To contribute to the richness of the community in which you live. It is not about becoming just another cog in the wheel, it is about helping to define what the cog and the wheel look like.
You might be sour on school because that has been your experience. You have been taught material with no relevance other than how to pass the test and frankly, you don’t see any value in learning stuff you think you will never use. I get it. But here is the thing, in this class, and in your life after this class, you will actually use this stuff you get tested on. As you will use much of what you learned before and didn’t think you would.
Which brings us to trust. Trust. The act of feeling safe and being able to rely on others, namely, me, as your instructor. Trust has a number of meanings-1.
What you will learn, if you allow yourself, is how you can find happiness through work. As the saying goes, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” is true. It might be work to get to that job. Getting up early is hard for some people. The environment is often hot, fast paced, and seems chaotic but isn’t. It is pressurized, and demanding and can be frustrating and exasperating at times, but, if you dig food, if you really like exploring flavor and sharing that with others, if the aroma of a soup, or wood smoke brings a smile to your face, you are not going to worry about how tough your shift was because you know what comes next. It is a gratification like no other, to know you have brought a salubrious quality dining experience to others. People celebrate events in their life with food. Weddings, graduations, births, birthdays, memorials, picnics, special religious and national holidays, all can be made more memorable with the right combination of dishes, or confections. YOU can be that person who makes that day so much better for everyone by the expertise you share through your skills which you are about to begin building.
I applaud you for electing to take this class. It is, after all, an elective. And it is a tough one. But, as mentioned, it is also fun and if all goes as planned, we eat well. There will be hiccups and challenges, but hang in there and work with me. Keep communication open. Put effort first. We are here to learn. All of us. Mistakes are expected. Failures even, Cakes that don’t rise, or muffins that are tough, over cooked roasts or burnt bacon. It happens. The key is intention and engagement. Learning from our mistakes and moving on. Building courage and resilience. Those attributes that will make you a nice person to work with, to work for, to be. Welcome to Culinary Concepts.
Chef Mark Hannibal CEC