‘The Mindful Kitchen’ - The Potential of New Skills to Innovate Kitchen Culture and Futureproof the Chef Career!
Denise Murray & Annette Sweeney
While there have never been more food establishments and opportunities available for chefs, worldwide, chef numbers are in decline. Trained, young chefs are abandoning their career in favour of either unskilled work or the pursuit of another profession. We need to ask ourselves why this is happening and how it can be helped. In light of the time and investment of resources in developing culinary skills in the classroom and the professional kitchen, there is a responsibility on all stakeholders to explore ways of addressing this issue. From an education provider point of view, TU Dublin Tallaght Campus, deemed that new skills had to be taught to young culinary students to support them as individuals and as young professionals working in modern kitchens. These skills are taught in ‘The Mindful Kitchen’ module.
What is ‘The Mindful Kitchen’?
‘The Mindful Kitchen’ is a new module that is delivered to all year one culinary arts students in TU Dublin’s -Tallaght Campus. This module is the first of its kind globally, in culinary education and it seeks to innovate kitchen culture for chefs using teaching and learning. It recently won the 2019 Jennifer Burke Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
What we are trying to do in this module is to self-empower chefs for their profession, to set ‘seeds’ of awareness that hopefully will ‘fully bloom’ during their career, enabling them to care for themselves and others as part of their professional approach to working and being in a kitchen environment. In addition, the module heightens their awareness of where food comes from along with the role of a mindful approach in inspiring dish creativity.
Working in the Kitchen- The Food, the Person and the Team
There are two main parts to the delivery of the module, both of which are delivered in the kitchen. The first is Mindful Kitchen Practice and the second Chef Self-care and Kitchen Culture.
In the mindful kitchen practice, young chefs are challenged in an experiential way to explore ways in which the modern chef can be mindful in food production and use mindful tools to benefit his/her health and well-being in the modern kitchen. 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. They are also encouraged to be more mindful with regard to food sourcing, food production, food waste, presentation and eating.
The chef self-care and kitchen culture section engages them with ways in which they can develop healthy habits to deal with modern kitchen culture and affect positive change. The chef self-care component has four key themes that focuses on favourable and unfavourable practices in relation to stress, mental health, nutrition and diet, and kitchen culture. Through class activities, students explore the factors influencing kitchen culture and the potential role of a mindful approach in maintaining a positive kitchen culture along with the need for a personal awareness of the application and the importance of chef self-care, in the career of a chef.
Reactions and Impact
When it comes to introducing mindfulness, in the increasingly busy world of technology and smartphones and ongoing sources of distraction, students find it hard to be mindful. The focus in the class is on them bringing awareness and attention to how they are in themselves and to what they are doing. Initially, students react very awkwardly and jokingly to this but like learning any new skill, it soon becomes the norm of the module.
Students have responded very positively to the module with a greater awareness of themselves, the potential of the approach and the creation of their own ‘chef self-care plan’. They were made more aware of the need to care for themselves while working as well as being aware of how they can impact others and kitchen culture. Students commented on the chef self-care being common sense but also how it was not being used in the catering industry. The full impact and value on student learning and professional practice, however, will not be seen until they are in full-time employment in the industry in positions of responsibility.
So how can you implement this approach in your kitchen?
The following key actions mainly include those identified by the students themselves in their chef-self-care plan. Perhaps chefs in the industry could also include some of these in their day to day activities!
Mindful Food Production
Care of Self
- Be aware of where food has been sourced
- Minimise food waste
- Creatively use food waste
- Be aware of bringing your attention to what you are doing and giving less attention to distractions.
- For creativity, explore the use of mindful tools to support it
- Have an exercise plan
- Try to ensure a work-life balance
- Use mindful techniques throughout the day and know the mindful tools that you relate best to
- Take breaks
- Use wind-down techniques at the end of service
- Avoid eating ‘on the hoof’
- Eat regular meals and nutritious food
- Be supportive of others
- Show respect to all in the team
- Use respectful communication
- Do not copy negative behaviour
- Think before you speak
- Work as part of the team
5 minute video of the programme:
The Mindful Kitchen: Innovating kitchen culture for chefs, using teaching and learning
View the video by clicking here or watch it above
Denise Murray & Annette Sweeney are culinary arts lecturer’s in Technological University Dublin - Tallaght Campus