Wednesday, 13 November 2012. This is an open letter dedicated to the culinary students of Johnson & Wales University, my former students still connected to me, my ‘Need to Feed’ blog readers, and anyone in the electronic world that is still listening…
Uttered in class, under the assumption that students are alert and attentive to the message, they are just words. When taken to heart those words can be put into action and are the next steps towards a learned behavior. I question why the actions are neglected and do not appear after the affirmation in class? Everyone nods their head and says ‘Yes, Chef’ when questioned about passion, dedication, effort, understanding. As much as it drives me crazy, I respect the student who says they do not understand something which causes me to slow down and be more precise and patient.
I awoke at 2:39 a.m. to think on this…. It bothers me to no end. Now, all generations bemoan the youth that comes after them. Those reading this will do the same. Here and now I believe our society and our culinary culture is at a critical point. The culture in a culinary school is one of absolute immersion not casual interest. Your epiphany brought you to the University’s doors and we opened them, welcoming you in. We, chefs and instructors and professors, are charged to teach you. Your stake in the agreement is to learn. That takes dedication. It take a selfishness to put off everything else and commit yourself to the dream that you had a year ago, or two years ago or another lifetime ago when you had a different career. Of course this is hard! There’s no easy way to be really good at what you do. There will be struggles, consternation, failures and despondency. There can be, and this is up to you, joy, fulfillment, wonder, awe, celebration, magic, satisfaction and a plethora of other emotions that are the result of hard work.
Your passion got you here. When school or life gets difficult because you aren’t sleeping, there is a major test to study for, the friends down the hall want to party, you had a bad day – whatever it is - you’ll be judged by how you react. Your attitude is everything. The Japanese have a saying that goes something like this; ‘If you fall off a horse six times make sure to get back on it a seventh time’. You, the young or older student reading this, aren’t alone. I went through it and still have to remind myself of the concept… Anything worth having is going to be full of hardships. Dedicating yourself to the end goal is what will get you through. It’s easy to fall in love with what we do it’s much harder to stay in love with it.
Some of you have quit. Some of you have changed. Some attitudes have morphed into an evil self-righteousness that is hard to bear from my viewpoint. You haven’t earned anything yet except the opportunity to learn more. Your ’rights’ are two - to pass or fail. That is up to you. Learned behaviors need to be accepted. No cell phones in our culinary building. Just do it. No attitudes necessary, just acceptance. One must ‘conform’ before they may ‘reform’. Students need to get that right. – just conform to the rules and accept the fact that you are not ready yet to reform anything. Learn the basics. Develop the techniques. The methods are tried and true. Put your head down – and just do it.
Everything I have to offer I offer up willingly to you… I tell you things because I know that they will be good for you to do! I’ve seen the best there is to offer in our industry – damn it, I’m letting you into the fraternity of chefs and some of you roll your eyes at it….
So, why are you here. Here, being at an institution dedicated to your future. Even if this letter is not meant for you, you can still get better at what you do and more attentive to detail. The staff, faculty and university at large wants you, and needs you, to be successful. I CHALLENGE YOU ALL to finish what you recently started with aplomb and ultimate effort. You are judged not by what you start but what you finish… Remembering that you are what you do, look in the mirror and ask your self what you need to do.
There are wonderful success stories within our halls and culinary labs. Students are finding their way amidst the cacophony of chopping knives and pots banging and orders resounding. Jobs are being offered and accepted all around you. My dream is that our faculty and student body work together to create a singularly perfect concept - knowledge. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is the confluence of teaching and learning. Knowledge is a two-way street. Knowledge is the first step towards independence. Knowledge is what you came here for. Knowing that, find it. It’s all around you. You need to get your head right, first.
I just now walked into the cold biting November morning. The eastern sky is aflame with the sun’s rays, the leftover stars and moon from nighttime, the cry of geese on the wing overhead. The magic of the new day is upon us all. I know now that what I just wrote is right. Peace.
Much of what precipitated this letter comes from other instructor’s observations, conversations with select students, and my experiences both past and present in culinary education. You can read much more of my thoughts and ideas in ‘The Need to Feed’ at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace, again…