I am currently obsessed with the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. While I am not an avant-garde food eater, I’m mesmerized by the stories and spectacles that unfold in each hour long episode. I watched two episodes to unwind last night and found myself grappling with thoughts on schooling/learning in the process. The two episodes from last night featured Magnus Nilsson (Season 1, Episode 6) and Grant Achatz (Season 2, Episode 1) two incredibly creative and envelope-pushing artists. As I became entranced by their stories and their food magic, I wondered:
- Where does one develop a capacity for this level of creativity?
- How does one develop the resilience to try and fail consistently?
- Where do we build complex problem solving skills?
- Are we providing experiences in teaching-learning that focus on these major skill sets and character habits?
I see these skills, traits, and habits as crucial to success in any field in our modern era. The work these masters are doing in the kitchen are just one example of how they are critical to success.
Case in point, for six months of the year, nothing grows in the area of Sweden where Magnus Nilsson has his restaurant, Fäviken. He has taken old world root cellar concepts (preservation, pickling, fermenting, harvesting and storing) and transformed them into inventive culinary creations I couldn’t ever imagine. He went to France after culinary school with no ability to speak French and, after being turned down by every 1-3 Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, he continually hounded Alain Passard at L’Arpège until he was given a place in the kitchen and then years of on-the-job training. Where did he learn to be so inventive? Where did he learn his tenacity?
In Grant’s case, he takes so many risks not only in his work but also with his life. When he was diagnosed with Stage Four Mouth Cancer, he took the risk of experimental treatment rather than losing part of his tongue and jaw. What was resulted was not only a body cured and his body preserved, but also the experience of slowly regaining each of his taste bud areas. This allowed him to rebuild his palate and gain a deeper, more savored appreciation of individual tastes. Where did his ability to take on life-or-death risk come from?
If I were to draw my own conclusion as to where these skills and habits came from, it would not be from traditional learning. It would come from a wide range of learning in and out of the classroom. A deep and wide reading of literature, the study of art and music, experimenting with science and playing with numbers, and being outdoors. And play; so much play. Growth mindset and consistent messages that trial and error are the best way to learn are critical in this development. We need to allow kids to construct their own learning, to risk and fail, to get dirty, and see the whole view of the world. It is in this, they shall begin on paths that can lead them anywhere they want-perhaps even to the kitchen of Alinea, the courtroom, the operating room, or lab.