For Cody Middleton, one of the pastry chefs of the Polo Club of Boca Raton, teaching allows him to not only enrich the skill sets of those around him, but also allows him to grow personally.
In culinary school, students are frequently taught that they will be a part of the service or hospitality industry. Although I agree that both are true, I also maintain that one crucial element is often left out: the teaching industry. The saying “knowledge is power” is fundamental in every occupation, but it is especially crucial in our profession. I am grateful to work with a staff of cooks and chefs that seek more knowledge and strive to empower the employees they work with by sharing this knowledge. It is definitely easier to tell an employee to do something “because I said so,” however, it is much more beneficial to both the supervisor and employee to go further in the explanation of a task.
While knowing how to complete a task is essential, I find that it is indispensable knowing the why. At the same time, it seems to make remembering the steps in a process easier. For instance, at first it might be difficult for a beginning bread baker to remember that salt, yeast, and stiff preferments are withheld when allowing a dough to autolyse. Explaining that these ingredients have counter affects on the autolyse process due to their restriction of enzymatic activity and added acidity to the dough gives an extra connection and tool instead of just giving dry instructions.
Even going above and beyond on simple questions related to a cinnamon roll or sticky bun can have a huge impact and spark new an interest for someone. There are many different types learners-visual through seeing, reading or writing, auditory by hearing how to do a task or listening to how a dough or batter may sound throughout its mixing process, or physical, were the employee is hands-on completing the task or making the product.
Not surprisingly, we remember 95% of what we teach others, so it is even more beneficial to share what I have learned by teaching others. For me, I find that the latter is the most effective method for long-term retention as the individual is able to build muscle memory by touching and smelling the product and the seeing the progression of the task. Incorporating as many of these principles as possible will have the strongest impact.
Many times, when I’m demonstrating to someone how to complete a task I include what I call the “TMI Facts” or “Jeopardy Knowledge.” I guess the natural teacher in me and eagerness of knowledge just slips out. With this said, I have fortunately had a strong reaction of positive feedback from my coworkers. I once explained to one of our pastry cooks the importance of using the correct size ice cream scoop for scooping coconut macaroons. While is it obvious that using the larger #30 scoop resulted in fewer macaroons, I went on further to explain that we would have had 33% more pieces by using the correct (#40) scoop. This was one of my most rewarding encounters because of my cook’s response. I remember her telling me, “Chef, this is why I enjoy working with you so much because you go the extra mile to teach us the little information that I can relate to productivity and food costs that are often overlooked in our busy industry.” She eventually went on to tell me that she wanted to open her own business one day and how these little details she was learning were added bonuses to her time at Polo.
Learning, however, is not only a one-way street from the manager to other employees. It’s a symbiotic relationship between everyone you interact with. One of the line cooks on the savory side is very interested in the food science aspect of cooking and baking. It is always a pleasure when I can spend a minute (or 30) getting lost in a conversation with him about different reactions, methods, rheological process within a dough or batter, or other theories that 95% of other people might not necessarily care about. It is my strong desire to push myself and learn something new each day. Especially with the internet, social media, and a humble, somewhat overlooked book, it is easier than ever to acquire information. We are surrounded by additional knowledge just waiting to be obtained and utilized in our daily lives. The industry, processes, equipment, and trends are continuously changing. It is my goal to push myself and learn daily to enhance both my own personal growth, as well as, to enrich the growth of those around me.