In the latest string of culinary school tongue-lashing books, author Jonathan Dixon recounts his daily verbal whippings in Beaten, Seared and Sauced. Whether it's Dixon's regurgitation, Johnson's Uncut, Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, or Flinn's The Sharper Your Knife, the stories are all the same: students were yelled at and humiliated by their chef instructors while attending culinary school. But Why? And are all culinary schools full of egotistical dictators that feel the need to cut students with razor-sharp tongues?
My chef instructors used a different approach - they were mentors, offering encouragement, advice and help when we needed it. They allowed us to make mistakes without berating us, and instead offered firm guidance; all without raising their voices and making us feel like the dirt on a russet potato.
So, back to my original question: why yell in the first place?
Theories abound. Some speculate it's the "old school" chefs doing the yelling because "that's how they learned." Others claim a verbally-abusive chef is ego-driven, needing to knock students down in order to feel important. The most popular theory is that instructors only yell at the stupid students. And that makes me wonder what that says about the authors mentioned above because they all seem like smart folks.
Does being yelled at make you a better chef?
Perhaps for those who need the discipline, much like a young person enlisted in the military might need harsh rules and consequence, the yelling works. But for the majority of students, from a recent poll, could do without the yelling.
I wasn't yelled at, spit on, degraded, humiliated or made to feel inferior at any time during my term semesters. I attended an accredited culinary program, learned and practiced the foundations of cookery while being exposed to classical, international and regional cuisines, butchery, cheese-making, garde manger and wine pairings just like anyone might experience in culinary school. I graduated with honors, have a successful career and turned out just fine without flogging-by-spatula.
What's your experience? Do your instructors inflict humiliation at every chance, or are you from a school of mentors?