Getting a Taste for Training

Managing a company and making decisions while cooking are parallel universes. Choosing ingredients and staff; establishing timeframes, conditions, and goals; managing emergencies, and solving problems in a creative way, working as a team.

These activities facilitate communication and are often fun to do. Morever they bring people together. While aimed at management, these courses are also suited to lower-grade staff who draw results from such activities in their interaction with colleagues.

To learn by doing denote “a particular training activity consisting of two phases: the active one (doing the action) and the reflective one (understanding the meaning of the action). The results of actions and the reflections about these actions, give rise to behavior changes and improvements”. So writes Andrea Ceriani, author of Il Manager in cucina (The Manager in the kitchen) and founder and general manager of the Italian training company KKIEN enterprise. According to him, a Cooking Team Building experience is one of the most effective training and corporate bonding strategies, “Helping to improve the ‘group spirit’ in a new, involving, active and amusing way thus assuring the participants the best conditions  to ‘get in the game’, improve self-confidence and put faith in the group; to develop one’s leadership and sense of responsibility; to work up the courage and ability to face changes, and new unforeseen situation”. He himself is organizing Cooking Team Building activities for his trainees and clients, and explains the routine of a CTB class.

The Chef at KKIEN introduces activities and goals of the CTB program

The Chef at KKIEN introduces activities and goals of the CTB program

The first thing, the appointed trainer introduces activities and goals,“Then he forms the teams of work and it’s not easy because the groups must be ‘equal-heterogeneous’, both on the cooking level and on the functional level!” Once the groups are made, they can get started with the cooking. Within a set time, they are asked to prepare “All the dishes on the menu, under the watchful eye of the trainers and of the camera, that films the entire activity”. “At lunch time judges and trainers can taste the dishes and evaluate the activity; then in the afternoon the trainers lead a debriefing, where the experiential activity is considered in relation with the professional pattern, and the keys are given to the participants to make them understand how to transfer cooking skills to their daily job”.   

Cooking by the Book is a New York firm offering customized culinary team-building events. When organizing a CTB strategy for a company, the president Suzen O’Rourke focuses on granting the corporate team and their friends the highest enjoyment possible “On the principle that everyone – regardless of their skills or experience –  can enjoy the rewards of fine cooking”.
“When these people come to Cooking by the Book, they enter the door as strangers. After the evening, they leave as individuals who have learned about food, enjoyed a great meal, and conversed in depth over common business issues” — she says. Then, she tells of one project they organized for the internet music firm Pandora, “Heavily endorsed by the internet community, our client has seen tremendous growth that actually created a new set of business opportunities in the advertising arena. Thus, because they needed to convince potential advertisers to come to their site, this client had to not only figure out how to gracefully incorporate advertising without disrupting the original feel of the web site, but how to get initial advertising partners, and how to grow that advertising base”This is how she stressed the importance of the CTB they organized for Pandora “Our client has used Cooking by the Book as a comfortable venue to “spread the message” in a no-pressure mode. An event at Cooking by the Book involves people working side by side in the kitchen, sharing the preparation of the meal and engaging in conversation for three hours.”

Coriander Leaf is a Singapore Restaurant and Cooking school that, since 2001, has been offering a variety of corporate bonding cooking classes, one each for the client needs, most of whom are based in Singapore. The owner Samia Ahad, a business woman turned chef and now food entrepreneur; describes their usual team bonding routine, “The group is divided into teams and they are presented with a menu where each team is responsible for different components of that menu [….] They are then required to produce the dishes they are responsible for, within certain constraints. The judges will evaluate each team’s performance […] The winning team and individual award winners will receive a prize for their invaluable efforts”. JamBerry Ltd. is a management development company that, seeing the potential and benefits of CTB started a cooperation with Culinary Arts Studio of the University of Brighton. They also decided to use the cookery skills of the chefs of the Studio to develop corporate programs for all those firms that want their employees or clients “To get together over good food and use the kitchen as the environment to get them talking”. As the director Berry Winter explains “We don’t just throw everyone into an experience. We back it up with good solid theory about  team development, including the four stages of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing». Because «We believe that skills learnt during the day enable teams to function more effectively when they get back to the workplace”.

Tall Order, a Canadian firm with an extensive portfolio of CTB programs, is specialized in Extreme Cooking Events. Julie Burke, the president and founder of Tall Order and a CTB professional, tells of a program called Cowboy and Culinary Auction they set up on the occasion of an annual conference for two hundred and thirty (230) Branch Managers in Ontario, “Our biggest challenge was creating an effective recipe selection and preparation to keep each of the 230 participants busy for 90 minutes chopping, kneading, BBQing, stirring and blending. Not an easy feat! We have a saying ‘If you burn, You learn”.    

VictorsFood is an Australian company owned by Victor Pisapia that specializes in team building programs, as well as training and food coaching. Victor’s passion for seasonal food,  interest in boosting local growers and slow food drive his mission at VictorsFood. Just recently,  though, he has started offering CTB activities, “Working in a ‘corporation’ used to be very impersonal, now business is starting to understand that staff engagement and wellness are key to better profits,” Victor says. “We help them achieve this through food. We teach staff how to cook from the basics, so they eat better. This really sticks, because we do it in a way that is fun and gets them bonding with each other.” Even after many years in the business of food, Victor is excited to grow his new baby. He loves to deliver the message, “Cooking is for everyone.”


Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2010