Five Ways to Reinforce Culinary Lessons in the Kitchen
When I worked in the FareStart Adult Culinary Program, it was my job to prepare apprentices and adult culinary participants to qualify for work in foodservice. I felt it was important to give each student the opportunity to learn and to meet students where they were in their learning progression. Here are some strategies I used to encourage students that learned at different levels & needed extra support.
1. Inventory Point Person
I would give a student the responsibility of “Inventory Point Person”. This student would make sure that daily orders were checked in and properly stored using the first in, first out method (FIFO). This responsibility taught the student the layout of the kitchen, where everything belonged, how it was delivered, and how to identify local food suppliers. They would also help with inventory prep to ensure all food items were in the correct place and matched the inventory records. They would build confidence in recipe execution and save time spent searching the kitchen for ingredients.
2. Math in the Kitchen
I worked with students struggling with kitchen math by reviewing recipes line by line to scale recipes and convert the weight and volume. I partnered with their Chef Trainer (a role that teaches students in a classroom setting) to communicate their kitchen math pain points. They would provide the student extra support so the student to practice on their own. I would also give them more time to work on the math problems by giving them the recipes a day ahead so the student could come prepared the next day to execute.
3. Repetitive Tasks
As chefs, we know the best way to learn is through repetition. I found that assigning the same recipe or food item prep to a student at least three times would increase their chances of mastering the core competencies. If they saw the item on the prep list multiple times and felt more confident in their execution, they were more likely to volunteer for the task. There were usually little to no errors during prep time. Repeating tasks also sets the stage for adding on new tasks or skills without the student feeling overwhelmed.
4. Visuals in the Classroom
Having visual aids in the classroom is extremely helpful because students can help themselves by building their photographic memory rather than asking repetitive questions. The list below are examples of the types of visual aids I would have posted in the kitchen:
Identifying colored cutting boards for different food applications
Converting weight and volume
How to properly hold a knife
How to properly store proteins and vegetables
Cooking temperatures for proteins and vegetables
Holding Temps Hot/Cold
Proper cooling techniques
These visual aids reinforced concepts learned in the classroom and helped students build their skillsets independently over time.
5. Peer to Peer or Team Learning
Running a social enterprise and teaching students at the same time is challenging. There are days you cannot give students one on one attention if they are learning slowly and need extra support. Pairing students together to execute a recipe helps students share their strengths and learn from each other. It builds trust, confidence, and the ability to work with others.
How to gauge progress
After applying these different strategies, I could gauge a student’s progress when I saw the following competencies and initiatives:
Student arrived to class focused with an eagerness to learn more each day
A boosted self-esteem and higher confidence level in completing tasks and being productive
They would invite me to assess what they are working on. It could be a conversation about how a task should be executed or tasting a finished product
They were proactive in performing tasks and identified tasks they already knew how to do -they pushed themselves to try something new
They’d volunteer to work in the kitchen at catered events (this was my favorite!)
Students showed they were open to learning by:
Working with and learning from other Chefs
Continue learning about how food travels to the customer’s plate
Learning the different types of catering services, such as receptions with passed hors d’ oeuvres, setting up a line for plated events, checking temps and garnishing food for a buffet
When students gained confidence in their skills, they would arrive to class with an eagerness to learn and excel each day. Having the support of their chef trainers, social service specialist, and myself ensured that they would have an impactful experience. They would own their greatness, embrace their value, and leave my kitchen with transferable skills that took them into their next culinary role and beyond.