Curiously Seeking Québec: Gastronomy Students Learn Food Outside the Classroom – part 1

This is the first in a two-part series on the fall 2012 course, Culture & Cuisine: Québec.

by Brad Jones

Sitting around the long supper table of Pastaga, Alex Cruz from the Societe Orignal suggested that “to end a sentence in a question mark is the ultimate sign of intelligence.” I must say that I agree. A few days before, armed with but a few simple questions, we had turned to Quebec to seek out answers. Curiosity drove Alex forward (“I am motivated by curiosity”), much as it did acclaimed sommelier Francois Chartier (“I’m a curious man, I’m looking for the perfect model!”).  So too, did curiosity drive my fellow students and I. In the end, though our trip remains punctuated with question marks of various sorts, there is no doubt that we are all the wiser for having experienced it.

photo by Rachel Black

The trip offered a rewarding glimpse into various approaches towards pedagogy. In the Concordia University rooftop garden, we learned that people tend to be afraid of plants, fearful that they may kill them if they do something wrong. This to me is unsurprising. From a young age we are taught in our schools that there are right and wrong answers; that there are passing and failing grades. We learn through lecture, passively, with the teacher speaking to us and rarely with us. But the learning that takes place in the rooftop garden is one of experience. It is an active engagement free from judgment or critique. Indeed, one learns to take care of a plant by having their hands covered in soil and regardless of how much attention is paid to it, there remains the possibility that the plant will die. To have this happen however, is not so much a failure, as a pedagogical success. Is there a better way to learn than through experience and failure? To accept failure, to appreciate it, is to engender resilience and creativity while to create the fear of failure is to harbor passivity, orthodoxy, and doubt. The growing of a plant, then, becomes an important way to wisdom.

photo by Rachel Black

Laura Stine, our greenhouse garden panel organizer, and scholar of the senses David Howes spoke of the importance of learning and socializing in a sensory rich environment. For Laura’s part, their organization attempts to bridge generational gaps by bringing the elderly in communion with the young over the shared task of caring for herbs. This is a form of knowledge transfer that is both unstructured and informal. It has the possibility of conveying information that simply cannot be contained in a book—that is, information acquired from a lifetime of experience. Moreover, to partake in this project builds human to human relationships and facilitates interaction amongst individuals. One learns to care, to love, to listen, to learn, and at times, perhaps to mourn. These are human faculties that one does not acquire from the classroom or the textbook. They derive from individuals sharing sensations with one another.

photo by Rachel Black

We who partook in the course were no exception. We learned and socialized, taught and created friendships, in the same way as the Quebecois from which we sought to study. Engaged with each other in a sensory rich environment we learned to know one another in a way the classroom could never afford. Indeed, I found it quite amusing that our group forged a whole new sense of what it means to “share” food together. At each and every meal plates were passed around and beverages, touched by the lips of many, went full circle. The cultural partitions that teach us to refrain from behavior of this sort were razed to the ground and in doing so we built relationships unique to true conviviality. In this course we experienced long trips, bitter cold, smelly barns, slippery eels, and clanging city bells. In the end, the pedagogical components of an immersion trip, the sites and spaces of learning, are hard to pen fully to paper. They flow fluidly from the act of experiencing and, undoubtedly, from experiencing together.

Brad Jones is a current Gastronomy student and Cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen. Read “Curiously Seeking Quebec: Gastronomy Students Learn Food Outside the Classroom – part 2” in this Wednesday’s post.

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