Food: The Great Equalizer

943884_10156461862970195_3349797162122064160_n  By:  Chef Rick Powless

Reflecting upon my success (or should I say, my students’ success) with a major catering event, I am reminded how important food has become in my life.  Where would I be without the career I have been blessed to have participated in?  What would my life look like in retrospect?  Would I be sitting here embracing another victory in my early tenure as a new teacher?  Questions that may or may not have true answers but answers that define me not only as a teacher, but as a human being.

One would only take a glimpse at me and acknowledge that I am a new teacher.  A Tech Teacher.  A Hospitality and Tourism Teacher.  But would you notice the inner workings of who I am?  We’ll come back to this.

Today was a culmination of over a week’s worth of blood (yes, a couple of my students did end up with knife cuts), sweat and tears (mostly from the knife cuts but the odd burn as well) for my students.  During the past week, my students took both instruction and recipes, and followed my lead to create the menu we presented today.  It was very successful.  The following photos are of some of the edibles…

 In the above photos of what my students presented, can you tell me which students with Autism, or ADHD, or PTSD or OCD made these dishes?  Can you tell me which items were made by my male students, or my female students?  So, where am I going with my ramblings?  Let me explain.

A student may or may not have difficulty in an academic realm.  Sitting at a desk with day-after-day note taking, reading and test taking can be overwhelming for today’s student.  The student may struggle to maintain a decent grade or even find themselves in a position that combats success.  Take that same student and place them in a tech course and suddenly they find success.  Maybe not the same success that the student would find in an academic class or program but success that visually presents a finished product that the student can be proud to say they completed.

In Hospitality and Tourism, I have a real opportunity to take these students and through support and mentorship, promote growth and a skillset that can only be considered valuable to their success in the future.

My program is industry-driven with the curriculum supporting a skillset and knowledge that will enable the student to both enter the Food Service Industry right from high school with a competence to be part of a successful culinary team, or to continue their culinary education at the college level to achieve a higher skillset that potentially leads the student to becoming a Red Seal Chef one day.

What if my program not only delivers this curriculum to achieve the best possible results, but also promotes an education that encourages real life skills?  How, do you ask?  Well, let me inform you further.  We all eat.  Food is a necessity for life.  There are no exceptions.  Currently, Chef Mike has become one popular dude.  We all know Chef Mike.  He has made life so convenient, efficient and has the added benefit of not creating more dishes than necessary.  Who is this Chef Mike?  You guessed it, the microwave.  This is NOT cooking.

What do I teach?  I teach personal hygiene.  I teach safety within the kitchen, sanitation and food safety.  I teach proper knife skills.  I teach students how to properly cut vegetables so that they cook evenly and can be presented as a uniform product.  I teach the students to make stocks from scratch, make soups from scratch and sauces from those stocks.  I teach my students the various cooking methods; both dry and moist methods.  I teach my students how to read and follow a recipe.  I teach my students how to create flavour profiles from the many herbs and spices that are used daily in a commercial kitchen.  I teach the students menu planning, menu costing and event planning.  I teach my students how to bake.  I teach my students how to work as a team to accomplish a set goal and how to support their fellow classmates in order to produce a finished product.  I teach my students time management, mise en place and most importantly…always cook happy.  Yes, I know this last point sounds silly but trust me, it works.

This is what I teach my students, and this is what these students will take with them into their futures, whether they become chefs, mechanics, accountants, artists or musicians.  Back to the main point.  Social challenges, disabilities or other personal challenges these students face each day should never prohibit their own personal successes.  It is our responsibility as teachers to support them in their quest for a good future, to mentor them as they need it; and it is our responsibility to always encourage their growth.  Success is achievement in the students’ eyes, not ours.  Each student has an independent set of needs and wants, and each will achieve these goals at their pace and in good time.  We are role models and should always maintain this line of communication and support because you never know what comment, assistance or advice that will turn on the light and give the student a real chance at a successful future.

Now, back to me.  You probably never knew that I have challenges myself.  Yes, I have OCD, but most Chefs do.  Who knows if this is a driving force for a successful Chef or not, but I like to think so.  Did you also know I have been diagnosed with PTSD and ADD?  If it had not been for supportive teachers and mentors, I am unsure as to where I would be today, but I do know I would have struggled more than I did.  The road was rough, and it was a long road, but I did not walk it alone.

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