The Wonders of the Kitchen

Matthew Kaase | Contributing Writer

When I was a young boy, I hated cooking. All the way through my junior year of high school, I refused to cook anything more complicated than pizza. Then in my senior year of high school, I found my passion in cooking. Three years later, I started working for Famous Dave’s.

In the beginning, I had to learn the recipes and basic duties of a prep cook through the “banking” method before I was able to achieve the freedom to learn through “problem-posing.” Once I got through the “banking” method, I was able to use both methods to reach my full potential as a prep cook. Because of this I became a leader and trainer, in addition to getting a raise and promotion.

It was through my reading and analysis of chapter two of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” that I developed the tools to critically analyze my experience as a cook. Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, writes about the differences between “banking education” and “problem-posing education.”

Freire describes how in the “banking” method, the teacher rules over the student, treating them as passive objects only there to receive information. However, in the “problem-posing” method, Freire explains how the students are free to learn, develop new ideas through discussions, and learn about the world through interacting with other people. In contrast to the “banking” method, the “problem-posing” method encourages an equalitarian relationship between the teacher and the student.

As a prep cook for Famous Dave’s, I had to learn many things right away. Within my first month on the job, I was expected to know the temperatures and times it takes to cook the everyday products. This is difficult considering there are four industrial ovens, two smokers, a six-burner stove, and a larger two burner stove. The training process for my first year resembles what Freire calls the “banking” method. Freire explains that it is not shocking that the “banking” concept of education views men as versatile controllable people.

My trainers were very strict on how the food was prepped, so I had to follow the recipes exactly. They always said, “I will only show you this once.” This put a lot of pressure on me because it was a lot to remember, and I was not used to this type of work. Freire explains how “[t]he more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.” This was how I felt. I thought my trainers would only see me as a good student to them if I did not try to use my own consciousness to improve my techniques.

Due to the amount of knowledge I had to learn in such a short time, my trainers did not allow me to input ideas of my own. I was expected to just memorize everything the way they showed me, not knowing why I had to do it this way or what other methods may be used. This is similar to what Freire says about the “banking” method that students are not expected to comprehend what is being taught, only to retain what the teacher teaches. I did not realize until later on that there was a reason for why they were so hard on me, and why they demanded I know how to do everything by the book.

In my opinion, some jobs as well as classes, require some amount of the “banking” method. In the “banking” method of education, there is a lot of structure, which makes this method very effective for new employees that have a lot to learn in a short time. It made it easier to spend my first year getting the basics down, as well as mastering the things I had to do every day before I started adding my opinions and trying to develop faster methods.

After getting past my first year at Famous Dave’s, I was able to gain the freedom of learning through “problem-posing.” Learning through this method made my life less stressful. Over time, I developed the speed and confidence I needed to take on more work, which took some of the weight off of the trainers.

There was a day that we had a lot to do for prep-work and had a huge catering to prepare. I could tell they were getting quite stressed because they felt they would have to do it all. I told them they could just worry about the prep-list, and I would take care of the catering. Through this action, they no longer felt they had to do everything. In the end, we went from tolerating each other to becoming friends.

Now that we respected each other, when I wanted to discuss new methods of preparing foods they welcomed the ideas. I used my awareness that I was developing from this method to change my future in the restaurant business, which is similar to how Freire states about the benefits of learning through a “problem-posing” method.

Freire says a heightened awareness of people’s surroundings allows people to see that their life situations can be changed to have an impact on the world. By becoming aware of my surroundings on the busiest days—my trainees, the tasks, the challenge, and my abilities—I was able to develop strategies to help my trainers and show them what I can do actually exceed their expectations of me as a rookie prep cook. My ability to comprehend what needed to be done and how to do it led me to thrive in times where others would get taken over by stress.

On Father’s Day of 2016, I was the only prep cook on the night shift. My co-worker had quit on Mother’s Day because he felt that too much was asked of us. Father’s Day is the busiest day of the year so I was scheduled to work from eight in the morning to ten at night.

The entire night was chaos. Throughout the night, I had eight trays of chicken cooking, sixty cobs of corn, and six trays of muffins. The line cooks were yelling back to me, “I need corn” and “where is my catfish.” It felt as if the night was never going to end. It was only through my consciousness that I was able to keep track of all that was happening and know what to do first. As a prep cook, a heightened level of awareness is essential. If I had lost my focus or had counted on someone else to tell me what to do, the night would have become a disaster.

Over time, I used my consciousness to uncover the truth in many of the methods of preparing food. This made it possible for me to uncover what the main rules were so that I could develop faster methods, turning me into one of the fastest prep cooks there.

Freire says that in “problem-posing” education students are deciphering truth from myth, using their consciousness to uncover reality. In my opinion the ability to use one’s consciousness to uncover reality makes it possible in the kitchen to find the main rules in preparing food so that I can create my own ways. I believe this really helped me stand out as an employee, as well as showing them I could take the initiative to get things done faster when needed.

By learning while using the “problem-posing” method, people get to develop their consciousness, as well as learn through critical thinking. In contrast to the “banking” method, I was free to learn because I no longer had to follow exact directions. Therefore, I was able to push myself further, making mistakes, and learning from my mistakes.

There was one time when I was pushing myself to be faster on a morning shift, but I felt exhausted. I ended up making thirty pounds of coleslaw with salad mix instead of cabbage. I learned fast by the shame I felt to never do that again. It is a story I still use today to show how we can all make mistakes.

Through “problem-posing” I excelled, finding many faster and more efficient ways to prepare products using my own awareness, which led to management asking me to become a trainer. As a trainer, I struggled a lot at first. Since I did not really enjoy learning through the “banking” method of education, I did not want to use that method when training others.

I started training people through “problem-posing,” allowing them to use their own ideas and discuss possible other methods to use with me. Due to the environment and lack of knowledge they had of how things needed to be done, I was put in a position where I had to switch to using the “banking” method of education.

The kitchen environment is fast paced. There is little room for making mistakes and asking too many questions. I found that by giving them the freedom to learn through “problem-posing” before they had the basic knowledge of the job led them to making too many mistakes.

Also, while we would be busy in the morning preparing for opening, they would ask me things like “can I cut the catfish without using a scale to make it faster?” I realized rookies trying to develop faster methods usually end up with them disregarding the basic rules to speed up the preparation process.

Over time I was able to develop a way to maintain the structure and delivering method in the “banking” education, while still allowing some room for discussion and creativity in “problem-posing” education. Understanding that most of the rookies I train are older than me, with more prior experience in the kitchen, I have no problem with them incorporating past knowledge that may be effective as long as it follows our codes.

There was one day when one of my trainees asked if he could cut the broccoli by holding the stem and cutting it straight into the strainer. This was a new technique I had never seen before. This method of cutting broccoli was much faster and followed all the rules. I was okay with it, and I began using this method as well. When I train new people, I show them this way because of how effective it is.

By allowing my trainees to express their own ideas, I train them in a way different from how I was trained. My trainers were very oppressive in their methods, treating me as if I were a robot there to do their bidding. I could not argue that their method of teaching in the end was very effective, even though I was not fully able to use the knowledge delivered to me through “banking” on my own until I started using methods of “problem-posing.”

I choose to train the new employees by delivering knowledge to them through “banking.” I help them develop their consciousness through “problem-posing” so that they can incorporate what I teach into their work.

Through my experience in the kitchen, the “banking” and “problem-posing” methods of education work like yin and yang. Freire believes that it comes as a logical consequence from the banking notion of awareness that the teacher’s job is to control how the students perceive the world. However, in the “problem-posing” method, the students are learning about the world through interacting with other people. It is interesting to me how as a student in education most classrooms consist of one method or the other.

As an employee at my workplace, I see how important it is to use both methods of education. If only the “banking” method is used, the employee will feel oppressed and no longer want to work there. Also, if only the “problem-posing” method is used, the employee will feel lost and will not get work done. In a workplace, I believe it is important to remain balanced with these two methods to ensure the employee is happy and still getting their work done right.

In conclusion, although I do prefer the “problem-posing” method of education, my first year at Famous Dave’s learning through the “banking” method of education was a very important step in my career. In time, I was able to move on to the more freedom based method which is “problem-posing” where I truly excel. Over time I ended up balancing both methods.

This led me to gaining the opportunity to become a leader and trainer, being promoted to line cook, and getting a raise. Overall I feel that both methods where necessary to my success at Famous Dave’s. With my learning of chapter two in Freire’s book, I can now analyze my situations to comprehend what methods to use or are being used in the future.