What the Culinary Industry Expects You to Know and Do
Chef-instructors, like all educators, are tasked with a seemingly impossible responsibility: Prepare today’s students to become the industry leaders of tomorrow. The challenge seems straightforward enough until you consider that the trends of today do not necessarily become the standards of the future. The ideal curriculum would train culinary students not only for their first jobs but also for the industry as it will be in 10-20 years. The instructor must be chef, educator, and prophet. What is the chef-instructor to teach?
Knife skills – While a chef can source just about any prefabricated product (for a price), the ability to cut product in-house will never become passé. Dicing, julienne, etc. is simply too easy to justify the extra cost of purchasing them precut. Additionally, no chef wants to watch the farm down the road send its product across the state for processing, packaging, and reshipping when it could otherwise travel from farm to table in a matter of hours.
Measuring – The ability to measure will only become more essential as technology advances. Students who learned how to weigh ounces of flour for making a roux may not have predicted that they would someday measure grams of calcium chloride for making sphericals, but the chefs of the future will surely need to measure accurately as recipes require extremely precise inputs.
Sanitation – The tools chefs use to maintain the wholesomeness of their food will continue to change, but the logic and theory behind food safety will not. Additionally, chef must buy into the belief that food safety is an integral part of the cooking process. Only those who incorporate hygienic practices into their food production will be fully prepared to responsibly lead food companies of any size.
Cooking Techniques – Recipes will continue to change with customers’ search for the next new thing. Cooking techniques may change as well with technology, but the logic behind those techniques will not. Therefore, it is critical that today’s students learn not only the how but also the why of cooking. Most chefs use the word “sauté” as shorthand for high heat, little fat, tender and quick-cooking cuts. Any tool of the future that conducts heat to tender, quick-cooking food through a metal plate can replicate the sauté process, but the chef must still follow certain rules. Don’t crowd or cover the “pan,” or the food will steam/stew. Use cuts of the proper size so they brown and cook thoroughly without burning. It is the why, not the how, of cooking techniques that will carry today’s cooks into the future.
Efficiency, Attitude, and Teamwork – Students must learn at an early stage in their careers to work efficiently and with a positive, professional attitude and as a team player. For businesses that employ more than one person and have an interest in maximizing profit, these qualities will never grow old.
While there are several more skill and knowledge sets that may reside on your list of required student competencies, there is one that ought to top the list of every educational program – Learning How to Learn. Once students graduate, there is no teacher providing reading and homework assignments. Students become responsible for mapping out and pursuing their own educational goals. If they do not value or know how to engage in this process, they will never advance to leadership positions. No one can predict with 100% accuracy the trajectory of the culinary industry over the next forty years, but a young professional who continues to learn and maintain currency with the times will thrive no matter what the future holds. Instilling the skills and love of lifelong learning in every student is perhaps the greatest gift any instructor can provide.
For more on what the industry expects you to know and the importance of lifelong learning in the culinary industry, see Welcome to Culinary School: A Culinary Student Survival Guide by Daniel Traster.
About the Author
Daniel Traster, CCC, CCE, CCP, worked as the Dean of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management at Stratford University and as the Academic Director of Culinary Arts at the Art Institute of Washington. Prior to his eight years in culinary education, Traster worked for over a decade in various culinary operations, including the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, and Occasions Caterers, Provence Restaurant, and as a personal chef – all in Washington, DC. Daniel Traster has earned a B.A in English and Theater from Yale University, an A.O.S. in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America, and a M.S. in Adult Learning and Human Resource Development from Virginia Tech. He continues to consult while working as the culinary director for the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show. In addition to Welcome to Culinary School: A Culinary Student Survival Guide, Daniel Traster has authored Foundations of Cost Control and Foundations of Menu Planning.