Learning at the workplace: Should it be explicitly structured?

The interesting thing about cooks learning how to cook, from being mentored by chefs, to coaching from peers or seniors, or referencing from recipes or blueprints, is that they are getting “liberal” by the day. Nowadays, the lack of manpower resources has sort of removed structured classroom training, and to an extent, reduced training at Training Kitchen as well. Chefs nowadays have lesser time to train but spend an inordinate amount of time in developing recipes that drive sales traffic. In SME organisations like us, it is becoming more difficult to structure training.

This development resonates very much with what Kim Severson* has written on her story on recipes crafting – “written instructions (of recipes on cookbooks) have shifted away from formula towards deeper explanation of technique, offering context and lyricism.”

For cooks who want to learn to cook effectively, they have to move beyond the ‘regurgitation’ of formulaic recipes. They have to learn to ask ‘why’ — well, at least in a self-directed way. This is especially so when we are engaging with cooks or junior chefs who want to better themselves.

The use of blended learning, and the advent of technology has also opened up a slew of learning opportunities to learn cooking in a free-form manner. Borrowing the romanticism of showing slick and chic cooking shows of celebrity chefs, we experimented with raw video footages of development chefs dishing up the recipes. The home-made videos were then ‘what’s app-ed’ to the cooks before the actual assessment started (no training at all), along with the recipes for reference.

The recipients were then told to experiment with the recipes and to provide a date to the development chefs for assessment. Through the assessment, the cooks intrinsically learnt with the development chefs; they asked many ‘whys’, and they even learnt to develop the new menu in lesser time, without compromising the quality; also, they learnt how to handle unplanned scenarios, for example, knowing what needs to be done when a special ingredient runs out of stock. Suddenly, the learning has shifted from ‘hows’ to ‘whys’ to ‘why nots.’

In turn, the development chefs also learnt because the context of developing the menu ‘in a lab’ is different from stretching it out in a real restaurant environment. Gone are the days where transfer of learning from classroom to workplace has to be qualified. It is no longer the situation of training being cascaded down – from development chefs to senior cooks, and from senior cooks to junior cooks. The new learning opportunity enables the (cook) team to learn together, to experiment together as they are all assessed individually, and as a team. There is no more social loafer, let alone exclusive star performers. All learnt together as everyone has the ability to dish out the food.

I do not have any L&D term, strategy or concept to describe whatever we have experimented so far. They are derived from common sense and approaches which all stakeholders find easy to implement. Academic rigour does not always have a place in the kitchen workplace, especially when cooks, in general, are more kinaesthetic. As this is still an experiment, more research is needed to validate the intrinsic value of this approach. As of now, operationally, it does the job.

*INSIGHT page, Straits Times, 25th October 2015 “Recipes now: Not just hows but whys too” by Kim Severson.