Excerpts from “Apprenticeship at Work”

Excerpts from “Apprenticeship at Work”
A Master of Arts (Education) Thesis by Olivier Schittecatte
Program Manager, BC Apprenticeship Board

“…The heavy use of formal educational tools is probably the main difference between Currie’s apprenticeships and others. Most apprenticeships place the human, economic or social dimension to the forefront, while minimizing factors that are reminiscent of formal schooling. In Currie’s kitchens, people make use of the formal system, but the human element is there as the person who suggests an apprenticeship to one of Currie’s staff is de facto that person’s mentor.In effect Currie’s apprenticeships could be likened to high-tech surrealist apprenticeships. All the elements are there, but Chuck Currie’s programs are so modern and effective that other apprenticeships and training systems appear to be something reenacted for the benefit of tourists in an historical amusement park.

…there is more to being an experienced learner in the case of Currie’s apprentices. In order to move through the restaurant’s stations, they have had to master cooking skills that form an integral part of the apprenticeship program. By the time they are indentured they can better hone these skills, but, more importantly, they can focus on higher-level skills that will be directly beneficial to them as cooks and to the company as supervisors. In fact, the apprenticeship curriculum is the backbone of the training material developed in house for each station.

…When apprentice and master meet to discuss school-related training; they sit down with prescribed textbook and learning guides and review them in a systematic, rote-like manner. The materials are to be mastered, absorbed and placed in a proper assigned place within the curriculum… In contrast, teaching moments that fit in the flow of work involve much more critical thoughts. The questions asked have no pre-defined answers and master and apprentice are working together on an answer that will not only satisfy production parameters, but their understanding of the trade. For example, the observation mentioned in Chapter 4 required knowledge of purchasing procedures, loss management, dry heat cooking methods, customer purchasing statistics, and good taste. It is clear that everyday practice requires that Currie’s apprentices be able to tackle such problems. In comparison, school-based problems addressing a single issue such as internal temperature of roasts, or nomenclature of mother sauces seem trivial.

Not surprisingly, it is always the job that comes to the front. It is repeatedly stressed that the job can and does teach and does so better and in greater depth than any schooling can. Both apprentices and masters recognize that school is important for self-worth assessment and as a supplementary, regimented training ground, while, on the other hand giving the training on the job the lion’s share of credit in terms of training.

…Another unifying factor is that the space allotted to the kitchen is carefully calculated. Over the years, Currie’s kitchens have become smaller and the distance cooks have to travel to perform any task has been reduced. The downsizing has not effected a reduction in the complexity of tasks and/or menus. The contrary is true: the menus and the tasks have become more elaborate and involved.

…Apprentices and masters in Currie’s system are cut from the same cloth. In fact, apprentices are masters-in-the making……all people, including apprentices and masters have gone through Currie’s training. Most, if not all, have started from the dish area and have worked through the ranks.

…In Currie’s kitchens, people are recruited, they don’t apply for a job. Most people who cook for him on a long term basis have been recommended by someone already working there in some responsible capacity. One of the qualities Currie’s chefs look for in their people is an ability to recruit people who will fit in with the team both at the restaurant level and at the chain level. “And we hire them on the basis that basically we think that they’re a team player. And we look at everybody that comes in the building as potential leader. So a terrific hire, you want to make sure you spend a lot of time with them so that the kitchen leader only is the person that takes the initial time with that person.” (Interview with one of Currie’s apprentices.)”