Hospitality

The one thing that needs to change in culinary education

Culinary schools are finally addressing the inefficiency of our education model, but there's much more to be done

Illustration by Alysse Asilo

At the first F&B Summit organized by F&B Report held last October, the hospitality panel posed questions on how societal shifts will affect the direction of post-millennial undergraduates keen on culinary careers as well as professionals playing within the boundaries of the food business.

A couple of weeks later, in a more intimate setting, Enderun Colleges’ assistant dean for the College of Hospitality Management Bel Castro—one of the more enduring figures in the industry and part of the abovementioned panel—drops an afterthought that could shake the very foundations of the F&B and hospitality business.

“The one thing I didn’t say at the talk was that there were a lot of backpatting on how Filipinos are so good at hospitality,” she says. “I would beg to disagree. We’re inefficient.” Though Castro has never been one to mince words, it’s never without good reason.

“It’s correct what Peter Pysk said: It takes four people to do one person’s job. In the US, the ratio is 1:14. One waiter should be able to serve 14 people. That doesn’t happen here. What we overemphasize here—the niceness, the puso, the sincerity. Until you go to a country where they are nice and efficient, then you see how backward we are,” says Enderun College’s Bel Castro.

“It’s correct what Peter Pysk said: It takes four people to do one person’s job. In the US, the ratio is 1:14. One waiter should be able to serve 14 people. That doesn’t happen here. What we overemphasize here—the niceness, the puso, the sincerity. Until you go to a country where they are nice and efficient, then you see how backward we are.”

This inefficiency is partly a result of the existing education model. “The way we teach,” says Castro, “we’re stuck in the ’70s. Gastronomy, for example, and food, culture, and society, all these have been in the syllabus for 20 years abroad. It’s only now that it’s being introduced here.”

IN FOCUS

But for nearly every sharp reflection Castro delivers, this defiant champion of change circles back to the progress, however slow, that’s occurring among the younger generation itself. For instance, two important aspects punctuate Enderun College’s response and transition: attention to data and sustainability. And how they’re opening up a relatively new chapter in their careers by creating new departments that center around data and sustainability, then communicating these learnings across generations—for both students and teachers alike.

The sustainability course, however, is currently just composed of electives but will eventually be approved as a full-blown course. But it isn’t an entirely new concept as in the case of Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) Manila’s mandatory Green Chefmanship subject, but there is an undeniable sense of coming-of-age at play here.

“It’s where we instill in them the understanding and appreciation of the environment. We teach them how their actions in the kitchen and the choices they make affect not only the environment but communities and the society as well,” says CCA Manila business development and PR director Liza Morales. “The hospitality and tourism schools are fast adapting to train students on how to thrive in this dynamic, individualized, tech-dependent, and globalized market environment.”

Consistent throughout CCA Manila is a focus on the freedom to pursue innovation at the ground level. Their Filipino Cuisine mandatory course in the two-year program Diploma in Culinary Arts and Technology Management may have been instituted 20 years ago, but it still remains relevant today.

“Filipino culinary students must learn our own cooking traditions and techniques first and develop a deep understanding and appreciation for it before specializing in the food of other countries,” says CCA Manila’s Liza Morales.

“Filipino culinary students must learn our own cooking traditions and techniques first and develop a deep understanding and appreciation for it before specializing in the food of other countries,” says Morales. “This has proven to be very effective, as we have graduates who are excelling in the enhancement of regional food. JP Anglo is one fine example.”

Castro echoes a related sentiment: “Now we have young chefs, 20 years ago hirap na hirap sila. It’s not because they couldn’t cook but because they weren’t given the opportunity. The only reason they got into cooking is that they had the freedom to choose that. Part of it also is they want to make a difference here. And they’re doing it already. It’s just not a tsunami of change. But they’re doing what they’re doing at their level because you cannot discount what the Gaitas (Margarita Forés) and Bernas (Romulo-Puyat) have been doing.”

Again, everything circles back to these schools, to the likes of Castro and Morales seizing an opportunity to seamlessly be ahead of the trends but still constructing formidable curricula rooted in a way that feeds information tailor-made for the illuminated faces of millennials and Generation Z.

“The generation today learns very fast. Technology has made it easy for them to get information and learn. It is us, the older generation, who must keep pace,” says Morales, whose statement says a lot about how educators need to expand their reach and structures to empower the youth. Morales adds that updates to their subjects through an exercise called program validation are also in the pipeline.

“I understand where the government is coming from and that everybody has to be TESDA-certified; we’re not against it. The thing is, when you go abroad, they don’t necessarily recognize it so we need to give you something that’s transportable,” says Castro.

“The process involves getting insights and opinions of members of the industry. We have a discussion whether what we’re currently teaching is still relevant and if there are any gaps that need to be addressed, any educational need that must be met. It’s matching what the industry and society need versus what are being provided,” says Morales. “The results of these form the base of the revisions and enhancements made.   

For Enderun Colleges, their tutorial and language center called The Study located in The Podium was initially a way to decongest the campus but has since added to the growing educational infrastructures in the country. With short courses that run the gamut from Google certified educator bootcamps and ServSafe training and certification courses to a wine and spirit program approved by London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust, one notable difference in The Study is professionalizing the industry with globally recognized certificates.

“I understand where the government is coming from and that everybody has to be TESDA-certified; we’re not against it. The thing is, when you go abroad, they don’t necessarily recognize it so we need to give you something that’s transportable,” says Castro.

CRASH COURSE

Yet one certain development is going to reinvent—or disrupt—university education: Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order No. 62. It’s an order that totally revamps the curriculum in response to K-12, choosing instead to focus on context and introduce new subjects.

“The TESDA-type subjects, like restaurant service, have now been moved down to K-12,” explains Castro. “And college is now supposed to be ‘college’ and it has happened already at the GE level.” (Editor’s note: As of press time, F&B Report has reached out to CHED for a copy of CMO No. 62)

Set to be rolled out in August 2018 in which schools were given three years to comply, the order may not exactly be the kind of drastic change educators like Castro and Morales had anticipated but the level of expectation riding on this broad modification is indescribable.

Yet one certain development is going to reinvent—or disrupt—university education: Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Memorandum Order No. 62. It’s an order that totally revamps the curriculum in response to K-12, choosing instead to focus on context and introduce new subjects.

The first roadblock is finding people to teach those new subjects. It may take some time to see the full implications of the order, but Castro believes that despite the challenges posed by the shakeup, it will eventually be good for the industry. “Because what we have here is a skill gap. It doesn’t matter where you go. There are like 15,000 to 50,000 jobs here, 50,000 students graduating, and none of them are qualified to do the job. The challenge is to teach with a vision.”

While the fortunes of culinary and hospitality schools aren’t solely tied to the rise of CMO No. 62, Morales sees things from another valid perspective.

“I really hope there will be a stronger effort by HRM schools and regulatory agencies to recruit more practitioners from the hotel and restaurant industry. Qualifications such as masters education should be more relaxed,” she says. “It really does not serve the students well to have someone who has never worked in a reputable hotel as their teacher in Front Office Management or Food and Beverage Service. These are subjects you can’t teach effectively from the books.”

As the whole process of curriculum change and subject evolution gathers momentum, there’s still pleasure to be found in adjustments that seem to ruffle a community. Despite what these modifications may do, the sense of subversion these changes provide keeps schools—and students—from feeling too settled and complacent.

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