04 March 2008

Innovation in the kitchen

Yesterday I had the good fortune to participate in some experimentation at GBC's Culinary Institute. Chef James Smith's continuing education course is for working chefs who are keen to learn more cooking skills. Part of the course is structured so that each week, half the students cook and the other half tastes a three course meal. The tasters mark the presentation and taste of the food. The criticism was constructive, and both teams approached the evening with the zeal of lab scientists.

Notwithstanding the pleasure of tasting fine food, the experience offered me a unique view of these young chefs as they innovate with taste, presentation and skill. What struck me most was the preamble to the night's three dishes, in which the cooking team described how they met earlier in the day to review the ingredients and to structure the menu. While some things did not work out as planned, the team was highly engaged in epicurean experimentation. As I was leaving I spoke briefly to one of the chefs. He told me that, as a country chef (he works outside of the city) he enjoys coming in to Toronto to learn new tricks and ways of putting things together on the plate. Innovation, to him and his team, is about the art and science of innovation in the kitchen, experimenting with flavour profiles as they put together their dishes. The team structure that bifurcates into cooking and tasting/marking is a pedagogically sound way to link learning to innovation and research, offering a good example of how applied learning and research enhances the student experience (not to mention my own).

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