Yes Chef! Contemplative pedagogy, culinary education and professional culture

Many thanks to Annette Sweeney, Culinary Arts Lecturer at Technological University Dublin, for this article about contemplative pedagogy in a discipline that we’ve not discussed on this blog before. Enjoy!

My question is – does contemplative pedagogy have a role in modern culinary education? In the increasingly busy professional kitchen environments, does it have a function in innovating kitchen culture?

As a culinary arts educator I have been using experiential learning in my classroom for over 26 years in order that chefs at undergraduate and post-graduate level, can relate to and understand the application of the applied sciences to kitchen practice and product design. As educators it is our professional responsibility to avoid complacency with regard to the teaching methodologies we use. Through ongoing reflection of my own practice, I questioned, if, in our modern high-tech, fast paced society filled with distractions, this approach was enough for effective learning?

At an engaging pedagogy conference in 2015, I was inspired by Daniel Barbezet and others in how they were applying contemplative pedagogy to teach in their subject areas. In particular, what resonated with me was how they were using the pedagogy in very practical ways to develop students professionalism, to prepare them for their furture careers. Since then, I have been exploring and researching how this pedagogy could support teaching and learning in culinary arts education at undergraduate and post-graduate level. One of the ideas that emerged from this research was The Mindful Kitchen Project.

Today, due to pressures of various forms in some kitchens, trained, young chefs are abandoning their career. In addition, greater awareness of food sourcing, food waste and sustainability is increasingly becoming part of modern professional kitchens operations. The Mindful Kitchen Project aims to investigate, instill and reflect on the new skills needed to support culinary students as individuals, and as young professionals working in modern kitchens. These skills are taught in ‘The Mindful Kitchen’ module. ‘The Mindful Kitchen’ is a new compulsory module delivered to all year one culinary arts students in the Technological University of Dublin- Tallaght Campus. It is the first of its kind globally, in culinary education and it seeks to innovate kitchen culture for chefs using teaching and learning. Contemplative pedagogy is central to the module design and delivery.

The challenge in designing the module was finding practical ways of incorporating contemplative pedagogy that would support and connect chefs with ‘attention’ and with their own health and wellbeing now and for their professional career. In addition it sought to heighten their awareness of the impact of their culinary practices on the environment. Creativity is also an important element of menu and dish design and thus an important skillset for the culinary arts profession. Allowing the mind to settle can give rise to creativity, and so the module seeks to create a mindful space to nurture creativity. The role of the educator is to provide the environment to support all these activities in order that students can integrate their experience into their learning.

The delivery of the module was divided into two parts, the first is Mindful Kitchen Practice and the second Chef Self-care and kitchen culture. In the mindful kitchen practice, students are introduced to a wide range of mindful resources e.g. chef yoga, breathing techniques and Qigong, which can be used for chef health and wellbeing. Through the use of mindful practical challenges, creativity is supported and they are encouraged to be more mindful with regard to food sourcing, food production, food waste, presentation and eating. The awareness and insights gained form the foundation for their discussions on their own self-care, interactions in kitchen teams, kitchen culture and overall reflective practice.

Students responded positively to the module demonstrating a greater awareness of themselves and acknowledging the potential of the approach. As a lecturer, it has been inspiring and rewarding to use this pedagogy in such a practical way and to witness student engagement and insights. Ongoing research and reflection is required to assess the full impact and value on student learning and professional practice. As the culinary saying goes ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’!

By Annette Sweeney, Culinary Arts Lecturer at Technological University Dublin

‘The Mindful Kitchen’ module recently won the 2019 Jennifer Burke Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Overview of the programme through a 5 minute video:

The Mindful Kitchen: Innovating kitchen culture for chefs, using teaching and learning


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s