This bread lab is, hands-down, one of my favourite cooking labs.
To be able to make bread from scratch is a skill that everyone should master. And the excitement that explodes from the students as they inspect their custom loaves is a joy to share.
In making a simple loaf of bread, we commune with history and connect with thousands of years of culinary evolution.
The relationship between flour, water, and yeast in our modern-day classroom is like a conversation with the past. The method of fermentation and baking that we use in the classroom looks very similar to the very earliest methods of bread making. And in following this path of food preparation we acknowledge the connection between us and every other cook who dared this same pursuit.
Michael Pollan in his book Cooked espouses the importance of basic ingredients, essential skills, and appreciation of the community or social element of cooking. I highly recommend this book and its partner Netflix series as essential media to consume. Pollan’s POV of ‘eat what you like, as long as you make it’ resonates with me and I pursue this foodie philosophy in life and in teaching. I guess you could say it is my primary food rule.
Each and every student in my class, I hope, is starting to glimpse the power within these three tenets of the culinary arts – ingredients, skills, and community. In truth, I would include the fourth rule of sustainability. ‘What’ we eat on a daily basis has become as important as ‘how’ and ‘why’. As each student attempts to synthesize what they learn in our class with their daily decision making, they will quickly find out that despite their informed intentions it is exponentially more difficult to make clear choices. What is ethical? What is clean? What is healthy? All good, basic questions and all create opposing views or food rules. This dissonant process is an underlying part of learning where both flights and fails can provide learning opportunities. I often reassure students that it is okay if their brain cannot make their hands do as they wish. Many kids, very quickly, get what it takes to make a loaf of bread. And a few even enjoy what they have made…some do not.
The final products that my students produce often bare little resemblance to the demo dish that I produce or to the dishes of their colleagues or to the foods they have at home. Nor should they. I encourage the students to embrace the process and to track both their successes and failures. The differentiated outcomes are essential to deep learning in our cooking lab and connect to all aspects of learning. Not only does this process illuminate the importance of personalization of learning approaches, but it also vividly highlights the fundamental potential of process work.
The method and the set up for the method are everything in cooking. It is often referred to as ‘Mise En Place’ or ‘put in place’. No matter the fact that each brigade [cooking group] is provided with a common demo, ingredients, and equipment- how the group interprets the instructions ultimately drives outcomes. Each group through collaboration and negotiation must create a way through their understanding of their goal – in this case making a loaf of bread- and each small decision brings another opportunity for learning.
For me, the process of making bread is ultimately the end goal. I have had both great successes with some loaves and in other moments I have stumbled miserably. Regardless, I remain focused on creating opportunities for my students to make enjoyable, edible mistakes. And if the loaf in front of them is not as awesome as hoped, then maybe the next one will be…or the next one…or…