Back in the mix – UPDATED

Like this, right?

A short post right now from me, as I’m back to school for the day.

Elements of my family felt that I needed nothing more than cookery lessons, so I’m spending the day working on my cucina italiana, at a secret location in nearby countryside.

I think it was meant in a positive way.

In any case, I’m off and like any self-respecting pedagogue (pedagologist?) I’m wondering how one structures such classes.

Is the focus on techniques (ways of preparing food that are ‘Italian’), or on basic elements (key ‘Italian’ flavours), or some vaguer ‘Italian’ sensibility? Or perhaps I’ll be walked through a few dishes then I’m on my own?

Put differently, what am I going to get from the day that I couldn’t get from reading Marcella Hazan?

I ask this both because money has been stumped up for this and I’d like to feel it will be worth it, but also because it’s the same kind of question our students might well ask of us and what we provide them. at university.

I’m assuming that it’ll be a small group and that we’ll get some individual guidance on whatever it is we are doing, plus some mutual support from the other students. But how do you baseline ability? Ask everyone to go and produce something of their own choosing? Of someone else’s choosing? Just ask around the group?

Just as cooking is likely to be a locus of very uneven ability and knowledge (toast? easy; Orata all’acqua pazza? less so), so too is politics. And just as I know how to ‘make’ toast, it doesn’t necessarily mean I understand the chemical processes and reactions involved. The surface is not the same as the underlying structures.

So off we go to find out. I’ll add in another bit later today when I return.

Assuming I’ve not inflicted a knife wound on myself.



So, no knife wounds. Despite my best efforts at chopping.

I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow account, not least I’m not sure I remember all of it myself, but I’ll make a couple of observations.

Firstly, being in a small group makes a real difference. And being a group of one – as I was – makes even more of a difference. I got 5 1/2 hours of individual tuition and feedback, plus an opportunity to get to talk around the dishes. That makes for better tortelloni and better engagement on my part.

And that matters because the thing I’d not fully considered this morning was the resource issue. I’d imagined something out of Masterchief, with a room full of people doing lots and lots of cooking, with a chef wandering about, grimacing.

Instead, a big part of it was me watching Jake (the chef) preparing and cooking. Sure, I did quite a bit, but it’s not a viable business model to get everyone cooking a half-belly of pork, when one can demonstrate on a single example. We might not have exactly the same issue in teaching politics, but it’s akin to those situations where we present research as a set of outcomes, rather than walking through all the steps of design and analysis.

Finally, I’ll note the importance of application. I got to eat a bunch of lovely food – both mine and Jake’s – during the day, so I got to see how my choices had effects: next time, I’ll let my broad beans cook a bit longer. Couple that to having a set of recipes and a hundred-weight (ish) of food that I’ve brought back, I have lots of ways to take my learnt knowledge and put it into effect for others (maybe).

In sum, it’s been a very enjoyable way of remembering that learning is not only for its own sake, but for our improvement, variously defined. Something to raise a glass to.