Teaching Culinary Arts Students: A Lesson in Creativity

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New Ice CreamLet 'em play!

That's the lesson I took away from my experience teaching an advanced pastry class to culinary arts students at Johnson and Wales Denver.

These students were dynamos, eager to engage and innovate. They wanted to be as hands-on as possible and they weren't shy about making changes or taking their dishes to the next level.

For example, one day in class, I had vanilla ice cream on the menu. When they saw what I had planned, their faces fell. Some even said "We don't want to make that." Imagine my surprise! While I thought homemade ice cream with real eggs and fresh vanilla beans was the bomb they obviously had other ideas. So I decided to roll with it. "What do you want to make instead?" I asked. Little did I know that I had posed that question to a roomful of Iron Chef dopplegangers. "Olive oil lemon ice cream!" they exclaimed. "berry Courvoisier!" others continued. One group came up with a concoction for strawberry balsamic vinegar sorbet and it was delicious. And we even ended up having a demo using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream!!

So, I let them have at it. Of course I inspired and educated them with 3 star restaurant dessert photos from my Pinterest board Star Desserts, gave the basic lectures on pastry formulas and mixing methods, gave direction on what is involved in making a successful balanced dessert with a Dessert Elements PowerPoint show I wrote, and set class rules on cleaning. So, the education and important lessons were there. But relevance of what is working in the world, along with personal creativity and freedom from fear of making mistakes were added to the mix. The end result was high grades on the final exam, the most beautiful dessert buffet and practical exam plates I have ever seen, and an excited and engaged class that loved to learn.

MacaronsOf course, their creativity only expanded from there. During our macaron session, the students prepared lemon macarons with blueberry filling, almond macarons with green pistachio filling, and even fennel macarons with basil lemon buttercream. Some of the extra-artistic ones even turned macaron paste into pretty "bark" that added a bit of extra pizazz to our final buffet.

One of the funniest times that they played with their food involved chocolate and water.

Yes, I had been clear that they should never put water in chocolate, but apparently that only inspired them to put chocolate in water!

They took warm melted chocolate and piped it into ice water, creating all kinds of crazy designs. What fun!

I had a wonderful time with my culinary arts students, and boy did I learn a lot. How do you play with your food?

By Judy Doherty, PC II and Founder of Food and Health Communications, Inc.

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