A Valuable Lesson

Several times a year, chef instructors teaching for the Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools participate in some form of professional development meant to improve our skills as educators and chefs. Today was one of those days.

When one of my students makes a mistake in the kitchen, I always let them know that I am a sincere believer in the value of a lesson learned the hard way. In other words, producing a catastrophic failure often hits home very deeply, and an introspective person that spends the next several days mulling over their error is almost certain to never make that mistake again.

At my school, once or twice a year, we are visited by the head of culinary education for all of the Le Cordon Bleu schools in North America. This chef typically schedules a co-teaching seminar for the instructors with the intention of making us more effective educators in the classroom, often by helping us to live through what our students experience every day.

We had been previously informed that the visiting chef was going to demonstrate a whole slew of classical knife cuts, along with two new recipes to be inserted into our evolving curriculum. After observing one or two basic knife skills techniques, what we discovered was that instead of thoroughly demonstrating anything, the chef, in a thick French accent, hurriedly talked his way through the two unfamiliar recipes and then told us we had two hours to get them both done. In addition to that, we were to present a tray of a dozen or so different French knife cuts for critique. Mon Dieu!

Needless to say, we were all caught off guard. But, as professional chefs it's our job to instantly acclimate to any situation, no matter how unfamiliar. Well, as you may have guessed, the time flew by, and very few of us finished everything. None of us did everything perfectly. Every one of us felt a whole lot of stress and some humiliation, as well.

The visiting chef wasn't being cruel, though. Our failure was all part of his master plan. He was teaching us a valuable lesson as to what many novice culinary students go through in the kitchen every day. With that knowledge in hand, we can all take a step back before teaching each lesson and make certain that we are being as clear and demonstrative as possible to ensure the understanding and success of every student in the class. It was a painful lesson to be taught, but it is one that my colleagues and I will never forget.