Pushing Food Design Boundaries

May 30, 2018 at 4:32 PM

With thanks to Mr Jeff Thomas, Head of Food Technology

Fancy a rosemary glazed bacon and mushroom open sandwich with a fresh pickle salad? Maybe a custard filled poached pear served with apple pie ice cream and drizzled with caramel swirl? Or a line up of spoons filled with sensory delights? 

This week, seventeen lucky staff joined the table in the Jack Paine Centre (JPC) to taste and critique the food offerings of our Year 13 Food Technology students. 

To meet NCEA Level 3 Standard 3.4, they had been tasked with a ‘Culinarian Study.’ Head of Food Technology, Mr Jeff Thomas explained that, ‘In order to become a Food Designer, one needs a culinary philosophy to start from.  This anchor point allows myriad discussions around food values, food trends and food culture.’ 

The students were first required to research a range of culinarians, finally choosing one that aligned with their own philosophy about food preparation and presentation. Taking inspiration from a multitude of chefs from Michelin starred restaurants to television celebrities and solid family cooks, each of the chosen culinarians had one thing in common, the creativity to push the boundaries of food design. 

At the heart of the assignment was creating a dish that reflected their culinarian of choice whilst fulfilling other elements. Their dish had to include a sauce and at least one of the following techniques: a smoking process, salt curing, acid curing, poaching, dehydrating or oven roasting. It also had to be served to a customer in a ‘food space,’ taking account of not only the presentation of the dish, but also the table setting. 

Two and a half months of work came to fruition in an afternoon of food preparation, plating up and serving. As the staff tucked in, each with a completely different offering, there was much discussion around the table, initially about first impressions of their dish and then more, as flavour and texture rose to the fore. The students waited on a little nervously, then had a chance to engage and receive valuable feedback from their ‘customers.’ 

The ‘meeting point’ of the student and their chosen ‘foodie’ resulted in some fantastic outcomes in the kitchen but, more importantly, the students were able to reflect deeply about their own food philosophy and begin to understand where they stand within a culinary landscape.  

And the staff? They came not knowing what may be placed in front of them. Whether it was sweet, savoury, a combination of the two, a sizeable meal or a delicate taste; they left having enjoyed the food but also knowing they had provided an important link between chef and customer. 

Since the Jack Paine Art and Technology Centre first opened 16 years ago, many changes to the curriculum have taken place but none more so than in recent times as the ‘JPC’ reviewed its practice in response to our changing world. In times past, ‘cooking’ as a subject may have been seen as the domain of the less able student but that has long since changed. The corner of the JPC reserved for Food Technology is an area where food, art, technology and science intersect. Overarching this is the aim that design and ‘designerly thinking’ should be front and centre of Food Technology education.

Preparing students to excel in the highly competitive culinary industry goes far beyond teaching how to create the final product that appears on a plate. This multi-faceted subject is so much more than the ‘cooking class’ of old. In the Middle College, the course is a broad ranging introduction, exposing the students to culinary design, science and nutrition, paving the way for further study. By Senior College, NCEA Levels 1-3 Food Technology is a demanding course structured to scaffold the learning and pressures that students can expect to experience during tertiary study. They are prepared to approach briefs with critical and original thinking, leaving the course with an extensive portfolio and basic industrial experience. 

Like all subjects in the Jack Paine Centre, Food Technology teaches students how to solve diverse problems through the synthesis of all other learning areas. Most importantly, they gain experience in the core skills necessary in any modern workplace such as intelligent failure, risk taking and the ability to work collaboratively. And let’s not forget – their food is great!


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