The culinary world is a complicated place. There are literally millions of ingredients out there (some of them yet to be discovered) and endless ways to cut, combine, cook, plate and eat them.Over tens of thousands of years we have grappled with the strong desire to try new and interesting things with food and the equally strong need to simplify this complexity so that we can understand it. This can quite literally be a matter of survival (a concept widely discussed in Michael Polan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma).
This weekend a group fo chefs from all over New Zealand began to explore what that meant for them. These chefs were all educated under a system set in place by Escoffier more than 100 years ago and most have spent the last few decades of their life learning, adapting, manipulating and exapnding the methods that they first encountered when they left school.
All agreed that they had found their own culinary comfort zone. A place where they have a large repertoire of techniques and a large and continually expanding knowledge of what lies out they. In an instant they can call on that knowledge and skill to solve any culinary problem that comes their way.
OR CAN THEY?
The culinary world is changing and chefs and other food producers are faced with more and more complex problems. At the cutting edge chefs have realised that the need a new set of skills. Skills that allow them to find new solutions to problems and to look beyond their traditional repertoire.
Some of the solutions lie in looking at their traditional skill set in new ways, other solutions are in understanding the science behind these techniques and others still are to be found in understanding more about why we eat the way we do and what other possible ways this could be done.
Finding these new solutions comes in a new set of skills – design skills. Many chefs possess these skills without recognising it (a new menu, dish of the day, a new technique, a new way of plating a dish), but most stay well within their comfort zone.
The Bachelor of Culinary Arts at Otago Polytechnic helps chefs and other culinarians (experienced or completely new to the game) to move outside that comfort zone. It does so by teaching them how to look at the world around them in new ways and to use that information to identify and solve culinary problems.
This weekend was all about taking some experienced chefs outside their comfort zone – WAY outside! It was more than a little challenging, a huge amount of fun and very illuminating.