The Cook and the Chef

Again, in preparing for a talk on pedagogy, I made this slide below. It extends on Tim Urban’s wonderful analogy of ‘The Culinary Spectrum’ in explaining Elon Musk (Link to the piece). I have just picked up a fragment here, and extrapolated it on learning curves. Tim Urban writes

“Cooks span a wide range. On one end, you have cooks who only cook by following a recipe to the Tcarefully measuring every ingredient exactly the way the recipe dictates. The result is a delicious meal that tastes exactly the way the recipe has it designed. Down the range a bit, you have more of a confident cook—someone with experience who gets the general gist of the recipe and then uses her skills and instincts to do it her own way. The result is something a little more unique to her style that tastes like the recipe but not quite. At the far end of the cook range, you have an innovator who makes her own concoctions. A lamb burger with a vegetable bun, a peanut butter and jelly pizza, a cinnamon pumpkin seed cake.
But what all of these cooks have in common is their starting point is something that already exists. Even the innovative cook is still making an iteration of a burger, a pizza, and a cake
At the very end of the spectrum, you have the chef. A chef might make good food or terrible food, but whatever she makes, it’s a result of her own reasoning process, from the selection of raw ingredients at the bottom to the finished dish at the top.” (emphasis mine)

My general reading in academics is that, we expect all our students to be ‘chefs’ all the time in all subjects we teach. So may be instead of expecting ‘chefs’ from every course we teach, we could aim at the ‘already existing starting point’ for cooks at the left end of the spectrum and give the students a datum to become a ‘chef’ on her own terms. We could also imagine this learning spectrum at different scales – 5 years, each brief, each assignment. There is another wonderful statement from Bauhaus, that guides me a lot : “The basic teaching error of the academy was that of directing its attention towards genius rather than the average” I think they mean the French Academy – the prevalent institution for architectural education before Bauhaus. I am borrowing from Correa (from an earlier post), to support this argument :

“Each semester these unhappy students are presented with brand-new problems, often in complicated and subtle contextual situations, and then asked to come up with new and brilliant responses, possibly expressed in an architectural syntax of their own invention. In the entire hisory of our profession, very few architects have managed to pull that one off— even once in their lifetime! Yet we demand this of each student, in each design studio. The result: dismay and frustration (and at several universities, among the highest stress rates of all departments)”

I made the diagram on the right bottom corner (in the tradition of academics making things look more complex than it actually is ) to overlap these spectrums. We could imagine them sliding both horizontally and vertically to chart different possibilities of the learning curve.