Classes start up again in a few weeks, but I thought I’d take some time to get inspired by a master teacher, watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
That’s sarcasm, by the way. I think Ramsay has real talent as a skilled chef who knows what he’s doing, but he’s a terrible teacher. His show is an excuse to put him in situations with low-talent chefs, where he can explode entertainingly and then reshape the restaurant with his genuine expertise…but really, the entertainment value comes from the raging meltdowns. The effective teaching moments come from the occasional moments of empathy where he explains with real sincerity to the bad cooks what they must do to get back on track. It’s actually a series of demonstrations of how not to teach, interspersed with rare moments when a little light shines through and you see what really works.
It reminded me of science in a lot of ways. We have the same problems. Ramsay sometimes fondly recollects his training, when he had to work 7 days a week for long hours and got yelled at by demanding masters; I knew labs like that, but was fortunate to have had mentors who were much more understanding and treated their students like human beings. After seeing him in action a few times, I just want to tell Ramsay that he was abused by people seeking to build their reputations and their income, and that he is now perpetuating that abuse, while pretending that it is necessary to be abused to become a great chef. It shouldn’t be. It’s obvious that being a line cook is intense, hard work that requires discipline and focus, but screaming and throwing food at the wall and calling the cook making the mistake a donut doesn’t help. It’s counterproductive, even if it does make for flashy reality TV.
Both science and cooking excel when the people doing it love their work, have a passion for their subject, and are creative. They both also require discipline and focus. Glorifying grueling expectations and taskmasters who torment their lackeys is a poor way to instill discipline, and is antithetical to that passionate embrace of the work.
Yet after watching him work for a while, I still kind of like Gordon Ramsay, but only for those moments where he lets the mask slip and reveals that he likes at least some of the people he’s yelling at, and has these brief moments of heart-to-heart communication. That’s where the real teaching gets done.