April 22, 2020

Culinary Training during Lockdown

Elsu Gericke, Head of Professional Body and Skills Development at the SA Chefs Association speaks to those in the chef schools to find out how they have been affected by the national lockdown and what they are doing for students during this time. 

The culinary industry is facing a crisis that we have no answers for that will change our lives as people, as chefs, an industry, as a nation, and as chefs of the world. 

Chefs all around the globe are struggling to make sense of what lies ahead and in the last few weeks, we have seen them posting recipes, engaging people in online cooking classes and spreading culinary love across all platforms. It is positive and inclusive, and it is what chefs do – when we love, laugh, cry or panic, we cook.

We now look to our future superstars, the chefs in training and the brave chefs who train them, to see what they are doing during this lockdown. Have they given up hope or are the fires of creativity and passion still burning strong? 

SA Chefs asked some of their training provider members to share their journey with us and what they are doing with their students in this time to keep them busy and learning. Most importantly to note in their responses is that all schools are making every effort to engage with students and are confident that despite the national lockdown, their students will still graduate as planned. 

We asked Capsicum Culinary Studios, CTIA: Chefs Training and Innovation Academy, and FBI: Food and Beverage Institute, which has schools in multiple cities, as well as Steyns Culinary School in Pretoria, and Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town a few questions. 

How are you engaging with your students at this time?

CAPSICUM: We are engaging with students online through various digital platforms and communication channels including IT collaboration spaces, WhatsApp, email, etc. 

STEYNS: We use WhatsApp (group and individual) and email.

FBI: We are using email and WhatsApp.

SILWOOD: We are using Google Classroom, WhatsApp and email to communicate with the students.

CTIA: We are using YouTube, Whatsapp, email and Dropbox to distribute documents.

Are you teaching your students online?

CAPSICUM: Yes, we are facilitating formative online learning and teaching via live classes, recorded sessions, collaborative forums and webinars as well as through Learning Management Systems.

STEYNS: We only do theory through self-study. Assignments are handed in on a deadline. If the lockdown continues we would consider video teaching, but data and internet access will be a challenge. We will use Zoom and pre-recorded video.

FBI: Theoretical assignments and worksheets have been issued for the time.

SILWOOD: Google Classroom and Google Drive.

CTIA: We have thought about going online for some time but there is something else that comes up such as a new campus to open or other projects that takes priority over it. The other question has always been how does one deliver a culinary qualification which is mostly practical, online. 

The added challenge was that our students signed up for a Full-time course and that they might not have all the resources required to access an online platform. We looked at various platforms for a couple of days and at this point realised that these platforms would be overwhelmed with everyone switching online and that some of our students may not be able to access it. 

With this in mind, we decided to use platform students can easily access, students know how to operate and have built-in download and view offline features, YouTube. Documents will be distributed using Dropbox Links and students will be able to make submissions using email and WhatsApp. We want to keep the distribution of the lessons private and YouTube has an unlisted feature which only allows users who have a link to access the information, we could make it publicly available later but this works for now.  

How are your students engaging? Are they using this time as a holiday or are they committed to continue their studies?

CAPSICUM: The large majority of our student body is engaging and present. Those that aren’t are not doing so by choice but due to constraints regarding connection availability and data costs. We have adjusted our timetables to accommodate students in this adjustment period and have put in place various options for engagement to accommodate students with constraints relating to connectivity and data access.  

STEYNS: Most of the students are extremely diligent submitting their assignments and engaging on WhatsApp.

FBI: Assignments and reports are emailed to lecturers for marking and feedback

SILWOOD: We are taking this time out of holidays but the students are using the time to complete the required course projects.  All projects are to be submitted electronically during the lockdown.  Our staff are on call to answer and help with any questions relating to these projects.

What areas of the curriculum are you concentrating on?

CAPSICUM: We are teaching theoretical aspects of all courses as per our academic planners as to not sacrifice valuable time that will be needed for the completion of practical components, as well as to ensure we minimise the disruption to the learner’s educational path. 

STEYNS: For the first years, we are doing Theory of Food Safety, Theory of Commodity Resource Management, Theory of Cooking Methods and the final assignment of Introduction to Nutrition. For our second years, we are doing Gastronomy and Scientific Principles, Offal Theory, and Safety Supervision.  Students need to self-study and complete assignments. 

FBI: Theory mostly – as per our academic schedule

SILWOOD: Silwood projects are designed around student research into fundamental topics needed for successful culinary careers. They are important building blocks for an understanding of the industry. Lockdown has given the students time to properly research these topics and complete their projects.

How are your workplaces affected and do you foresee that some of them may not open again post the lockdown?

CAPSICUM: Our workplace is largely operating online with most positions able to work remotely. We do not foresee at this stage that our business will not be able to recover.

STEYNS: That is my biggest worry, that some establishment will not be able to operate after the lockdown.  We are in communication with some chefs. I have not receive any word that some will not open.  I am hoping for the best but considering other Industry workplace opportunities for my students.

FBI: We are worried about this – with everyone closed we have had limited feedback. All international student placements have been returned and cancelled for now

SILWOOD: Our students understand that they are fundamental players in rebuilding our industry, once we are over this global crises, they will return to the Workplace and do everything they can to rebuild our industry.

How will this affect your business or intake of new students?

CAPSICUM: While the impact of this pandemic will have unpredictable effects on all industries, we have learnt a great deal through experiencing this and have formulated recovery plans to mitigate the risks that may arise due to the effects of the pandemic. We foresee that we will remain competitive and operational in both our normal business operations and intakes as well as in new spheres of operation. 

STEYNS: In regards to my full-time students we are still going strong.  With our once-off and non-credit bearing short courses, we’ve seen a drop in numbers and cancellations. It is still a bit early to see the effect on our July intake. Staff will not have Admin-days after lockdown.  July intake will most probably start a bit later, less holiday and we will continue further into December.

SILWOOD: Our focus is on our current students. It is too early to tell how this crisis will affect our future intakes. Our industry has taken a very serious knock, it will take time to recover. Our jobs are now to reinvent and rebuild. South Africa has phenomenal chefs and we will support them reinventing our industry.I used to tell students that being part of the opening of a new restaurant was invaluable for their learning- that has now changed- being part of the reinventing and rebuilding our industry is their most valuable learning experience.

How are you adapting the hygiene and interaction policies at your institution? Have you made any changes for post lockdown?

CAPSICUM: Due to our brands operating in a hygiene conscious sector a large percentage of our policies were aligned to the recommendations for fighting viral contamination prior to the pandemic. Stricter implementation of these policies have been a focus and will remain a focus post-lock-down when resuming operations.  

STEYNS: Before the lockdown, we cancelled all outside classes, functions and people that might come into the campus for once-off classes. Our goal was to contain only full-time staff and students on campus. Students sanitize their hand before entering school. Students were also discouraged to use public transport, but rather catch a lift with a friend or parent.  Enforced regular hand washing.  We will implement strict social distancing by presenting practical classes in smaller groups.

SILWOOD: In the weeks before lockdown, we limited the number of students on the property and didn’t have more than 14 students in any class. Post lockdown, our resident Staff and students have followed very strict prodigals. No one has left the property and all deliveries have been thoroughly cleaned with 70% alcohol sanitizer before being brought in.

How has this lockdown impacted your lecturers?

CAPSICUM: Despite the challenges of the lockdown, a considerable amount of transformative thinking has emerged in our business across multiple departments including our lecturing team. Their attitude has been overwhelmingly positive and they have shown a notable commitment to embracing change and adapting to what we are all terming our “new normal”. Lecturers are cooking and filming in their kitchens sharing their dedication and passion with us and our students daily. We are incredibly proud of the commitment our teams in the Capsicum and Private Hotel School brands have shown. 

STEYNS: Actually in a positive way. The lecturers had a chance to catch up on lesson planning, PowerPoints, marking and assessing assignments, and 2nd quarter planning.  They are aware that they will not have any admin days, so that work is being done now.

FBI: All positive for now 

SILWOOD: Our lecturers are on call for students during this time to help with project queries and marking. They are all committed to finishing the academic curriculum as soon as we are allowed to open.

CTIA: The key is to be flexible. It might be tedious to receive a student’s submission over WhatsApp and its eight photos that you need to download and add to a folder, but what it boils down to is that they completed those eight pages and that education is carrying on. We made the decision to carry on and to support our students by giving them purpose during this difficult time.