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Connecting with people through food

My mission in life seems to be to make people happy through food.  You know that old saying: “The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”  Well, when I was much younger, I think I tried to prove that theory to be true!  Long before I decided to pursue a culinary career, I loved to bake and share my pastries with the special people in my life.  Not much has changed since then, except that I now have a Culinary Arts degree and professional experience to help me accomplish my mission!

But I had an interesting experience the other day that made me stop and reevaluate my skills and career goals.  One of my former students from my days as a chef instructor “friended” me on Facebook.  We had a chat conversation where she thanked me for being an important role model in her life and for inspiring her in her culinary career.  It made me feel really good to know that I could leave that kind of impression on my proteges–even after so many years (I taught culinary school from 1999-2002.).  After that exchange, I am now thinking that–although I love to make people happy using food as a medium–my greatest skill is my ability to connect and communicate with people directly.

I also know my greatest weakness in my culinary skills: I simply am not a speedy cook.  I am very detail-oriented in my work–a perfectionist even.  And I tend to take extra time to make my goods perfect, which is an impediment when trying to keep up with customers’ orders in a restaurant.  Bakeries were a better environment for my skills because I could take the time necessary to make all the baked goods look beautiful, but the work pace is still fast and chaotic at times.

I found the best fit for my skills was as a culinary instructor because as a teacher, it is important to be detail-oriented and take the time necessary to explain all the steps of a recipe or procedure clearly to the students.  As a culinary instructor, it doesn’t matter how quickly you can produce a recipe or how talented you are at cooking if you cannot effectively communicate your knowledge and expertise to your students.  And that is where my strengths lie.  I was very effective at connecting with my students–explaining and demonstrating techniques and concepts in ways that they could understand.  I was patient and supportive as they practiced and learned–what better place to learn from experience and mistakes than in a classroom setting?  My hope is that by me taking the time to thoroughly teach important culinary skills, my students would be prepared to go out in the culinary world and do what I was not able to do: work with both skill AND speed.  And it’s really nice to know that along the way, I made a lasting impression on some of my students’ lives.

So now that I am approaching a point in my life where I need to think about going back to work, I am realizing that I need to focus on opportunities that allow me to connect with people–but always with food as the basis of our communications.

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