Top Chef Guides My Teaching

For fans of Top Chef, we’ve all seen it. Tom Colicchio looks at a chef who served something that the judges didn’t enjoy and asks, “Did you try this?” The chef normally mumbles something, and it is clear that either they didn’t try it, or they thought that someone else might have made something worse, and that their dish would get them by.

My other Top Chef favorite is, “If you knew it wasn’t good, why even put it on the plate?” Again, the chef will try to explain that they had to plate something and a bad dish is better than no dish.

Last week I heard a podcast that talked about Interactive Data Sets. The idea was to give students a bunch of data, and have them make connections. (At least I think that is what they were supposed to do.) I sat down and made a data table with 8 Asian countries looking at 10 different factors. Lots and lots of information for kids to make connections with. Then I tasted the dish.

I hated it. I couldn’t figure out what pieces of data connected with others. Just when I thought I saw patterns coming together, it became apparent that it wasn’t a universal truth. I realized that if I was struggling with it, my 7th graders would be in agony.

Just like the dish that a chef-testant should have thrown away, I threw away the lesson. It doesn’t matter that I spent an hour looking for data and putting a table together. Maybe I’ll come back to it later and save it, but for right now, it couldn’t be served.

On Top Chef, they always fear the Judges’ Table. Four foodies critique the dishes the chefs served, and someone gets sent home. My “Judges’ Table” is a little more threatening – twenty-five 7th graders who have no problem telling me exactly how badly I messed up. Lucky for me, I tasted the lesson before I served it, and I wasn’t afraid to pitch it when I realized it was bad.

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