Heating up the Kitchen

17 08 2011

Are you a person who cooks by the recipe or are you one who reviews the recipe simply as inspiration? Or maybe you just toss in what you have?

Years ago when I was a kid in the 80’s, back in the old days before the Food Network, the Cooking Channel and Redneck Cooking on YouTube, I used to watch cooking shows on PBS. I’d marvel at the likes of Justin Wilson, the Cajun Chef, as he’d spin stories and cook with ingredients I’d never heard of, like Andouille. I’d watch, transfixed as I tried to translate his thick Cajun words and stories, and would always be surprised when he ignored what the recipe called for, dumping in more salt or wine to either suit his own taste, to get a laugh, or both.  

This video is actually from his earlier years. In later years, he was a bit more wild during his show that was set outdoors.

In those days, I’d be just as transfixed with another PBS show called Great Chefs of the World. This was an entirely different world away from Justin Wilson. Each week, the bland narrator’s voice would sometimes allow the accents of the French-speaking chefs de cuisine in the world’s fanciest restaurants  peek through. Each famous chef, none of whom I ever recognized, would meticulously stir, strain, whip, and prepare his own wondrous pieces of art for the camera. Funny, mesmerized as I was at the process and straining to hear the unintelligible French words, I was without fail, absolutely confused as to how, exactly, that crazy creation was going to be eaten.

However, I learned cooking from both styles and was at age 11, was creating from scratch perfectly unbroken Hollandaise Sauce, Hillbilly Style. I say hillbilly style, because we didn’t often have fresh lemons at my house growing up, so I used white vinegar; black pepper instead of white pepper; using my own home-styled metal bowl and cooking pot combo as my double-boiler (nowadays, that’s how all the TV chefs do it). It was a sight to see, perched atop our giant electric stove! But as far as I knew, I was the only 11 year old to have done such a thing and it made breakfasts at our old round oak table something special. At least to me.

Now that I’m so much older and musing at some of my early days, I think back to the different styles of professionals. And of course I apply that to teaching and learning. Of course.

I’ve worked with teachers who are meticulous recipe-followers. They have all their materials and lessons planned out perfectly and ready to go when the kids walk in the door. Some do well when the unexpected occurs and some struggle.

I’ve also worked with teachers who have no recipe at all, just tossing in whatever flavors they think might work together that moment. Sometimes they’re successful in creating an edible meal; sometimes they’re not.

Mostly, however, I’ve worked with teachers who like to look over a recipe and decide if they’re going to follow it closely the first time or if they’re going to take the “idea”  of the recipe and make it their own. The written recipe simply serves as a source of inspiration for those folks, with the more timid wanting to try a recipe as it’s written first. But it doesn’t take long until they have taken their own experiences and tastes of their ‘family’ and have spun out something beautiful. Something nutritious, tasty, and aesthetically pleasing.

These are the teachers I like to work with. These are the teachers I’d like to be.

English: Teachers from the Exploratorium's Tea...

English: Teachers from the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute examine the “String Thing” they built. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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