13 Nov 2007

Food, science and pupils'/students' experience of success

Cooking is a discipline that is often heavily focussed on a successful result. Sometimes this is a good thing, but other times focus on achieving is not necessarily the best strategy in terms of learning. In these cases, a science perspective may be just what is needed.

In Norway, cooking in school has had a rather strong feminine focus, possibly because the approach has been home cooking and home related questions rather than a more masculine gastronomical /restaurant perspective.* This focus prevails, and I don't complain about that. On the contrary, I think a home focus is the right approach in a school setting.

One thing I find that these two approaches have in common, though, is that achieving a successful result (dish) often is the main focus, and in that respect I think there are things to be done. My point is:

if the pupils/students end up with is a bread that hasn't leavened, would that be regarded as a failure? If the goal is achieving an optimal product, the answer is probably yes. If learning is the goal, I'd say no. In fact, it may be an excellent impetus to learn something about baking, yeast, leavening etc.

In fact, nothing spurs me more to experiment than when a recipe tells me by all means to avoid doing something, such as getting egg yolk in when whipping egg whites, or whipping the double cream past the whipped cream-stage. Sometimes, "sabotage experiments" may very well be the ultimate way of learning and experimenting with food (and may result in surprisingly good or interesting products as well).

Through science and research, we learn that a result is a result is a result...; a negative result may be as informative as a positive one. If it is true that "a drop of success will create a pound of persistence", then why not turn what could be seen as a failure into an interesting result from which one may learn from? Maybe this could spur towards a more gender neutral home economics (in Norway: Food&health) teaching?

Also, in many cases the unlikely results and the odd combinations may be the ones that lead to new experiences and wonderful dishes, such as the unlikely purple mashed potatoes made by all blue potatoes (there are no colourings added and the picture is not manipulated).

Photo: Erlend Krumsvik

(* The masculine/feminine thing is more of an observation, rather than an opinion of mine. Personally, I'd really like to see a more equal gender distribution among both the mentioned groups/perspectives, such as a male home economics teacher in primary school...)


  1. I do agree with you that "unsuccesful" practices are incredibly helpful as learning experiences. However, part of our jobs in cooking schools is to get them ready for "the real world". I guess that's where the stress for sucess comes from.

    I think we should take an open minded approach when in class, and a more success-focused one for examinations.

  2. I agree, and the critical question would then be how the teacher should approach this, I guess. There is of course a big difference according to the level, and if we're talking about student that are to become chefs we're in an all different ballgame (at least in the later years of study). For children in primary school, however, I think one may be somewhat more loose in the focus on achievements.


Please add your comments