Where ingredients come from, who grew them, and what care went into their journey from farm-to-table are all conversations which need to happen. It fosters, after all, important relationships about real food. There’s another conversation which needs to finally happen, and that is the story of students.
Frankly, compared to ingredients, students barely get any lip service in the hyper-discussed world of food. Their provenance, their necessary nurturing, and especially their sustainability are given bottom shelf attention. Yet these are the men and women who chose to one day – immediately after graduation, if you think about it- put their mind and hands to cook the meals consumers have chosen not to cook themselves. Anyone who has ever cooked ANYTHING for only a handful of people (let alone hundreds per week, week after week) knows the work and commitment necessary to put food on the table, let alone food worthy of your Iphone. In fact, we ought to thank those who choose to follow such a journey and cook our food for us. Yet the story of the heirloom tomato trumps that of the fine people transforming it into something worth finding parking on a busy Friday/Saturday night.
The day we decided, as teachers, to treat students the way mindful chefs treat great ingredients coming through their back door – in other words as independent adults with their own special story and special values – everything changed. They were no longer “my” students, but instead co-learners. And anyone who asks me to point out to the “superstars” in the kitchen, I point to the onions.
Each term it’s our job to make a bigger push to elevate the attention our students deserve. We can achieve much in house, and can give our students the tools and confidence to find their own courage and voice moving forward. If there is a serious shortage of qualified cooks in the industry these days, perhaps many need to pay more attention to the world and reality students come from – and, no doubt, adjust the perpetuated conditions (conveniently referred to a “realities”) and stereotypes of this business. And those that need to weigh in include chefs, entrepreneurs, consumers, media, and, not least, culinary schools.