Learning to cook goes beyond just learning how to make food for yourself though. In fact, it hits on several skills we consider valuable in the working word.
Planning: To cook, you need to plan. Normally it’s not a good idea to start right away on your dish. First you have to be sure you have all the tools to cook the meal. You need to get out the ingredients, figure out the proper mixing order, pre-heat your oven and so on.
Planning is a vital skill in the work world. At the newspaper for example, we need to plan out who is doing what story, what we can get done for deadline and where things will go. It’s not much different than planning your steps for cooking.
Math: In school most students don’t see the point of math, but in the cooking world it shines. Doubling and halving recipes is OK, but what about more elaborate?
A secret of the culinary world is they don’t use cups or teaspoons. Most everything is based on weight. The really neat thing about using weight is how easy it becomes to scale things up and down.
Say your recipe makes enough for 5 servings. But you need to feed 56. To minimize waste you figure out how much to increase each ingredient. In this case, you multiply everything by 11.2 (56/5 gives you the total).
With a weight based recipe, you scale up to 100 cookies or go all the way down to one, and it will turn out just about the same.
Pride: Cooking has a tangible end result, and one I could be proud of. Getting a great mark on a test wasn’t bad of course, but other than at the moment it didn’t really stay with me in the long term.
Cooking gives you something to bring home and share. I’m sure there were more students than just me who wanted to try the recipe at home on their family. I know that always inspired me to keep going.
Teach each other: I doubt this one will be on a conscious level, but I remember learning as much from my classmates as I did from the teacher.
No two households do things the same way, and we never seemed to have a problem sharing how we (usually our moms) did things at home. We might pick it up, we might not.
One trick I remember learning is how to get bits of eggshell out of an egg you’ve just cracked. Instead of trying to use a spoon or your finger, which always seems to push the shell away, use the cracked half of the egg. For whatever reason, it scoops it right out.
I may have eventually learned that on my own, but I think that collaboration is an important part of today’s society.
Fun: I realize there’s more to life than just having fun, but school should have at least some moments that are fun. Cooking can be stressful if you take it too seriously, so the trick is to not take it seriously.
OK, that sounds easy, but how do you do that in a class that has to be graded? Well, if the recipe fails for some reason, get the student to figure out why. Did they use too much sugar? Did they have their oven too high? There are plenty of things that can go wrong in the kitchen, and its almost more valuable to learn from your mistakes. Then the student knows what to watch out for next time. That seems like a valuable life skill to me.
Cooking is still part of the South Queens Junior High curriculum, as a required Grade 8 class and an optional module in Grade 9. I think it gives students practical skills, and in a way that stays ingrained with them. In the age of cuts, I really hope cooking class does not end up on the chopping block.