Training Wheels

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur.

Image via Wikipedia

Let’s end the week on a food note, shall we?  I know – just like every other Friday.  The sort of big news around my town this week is that Mario Batali is opening a place here.  Due to some funky zoning regulations, our town’s culinary scene hasn’t really kept up with towns around us so this is terrific news.  I’m sure you’ve all seen Mario on TV even if you haven’t eaten at one of his many excellent restaurants.  What you might not know is that his route to that success was kind of different and that’s today’s business thought.

Mario started out the way a lot of chefs do.  He got his traditional degree (Rutgers) but then he started studying at Le Cordon Bleu in London. That school’s emphasis on classic French cooking conflicted with Mario’s love of classic Italian so he left Le Cordon Bleu and instead spent his time working for a number of big-name chefs in London.  After that he spent three years in Italy cooking in a small town and learning from other cooks.  That sort of apprentice system has been the norm in the culinary world for centuries (as it used to be in every other business).

I bring this up because if you were a restaurant looking to hire a cook and were demanding a degree from a culinary school you’d never have hired Mario.  In many ways, I’d rather have someone who personifies Twain’s dictum of not letting schooling get in the way of education.

How many of you refuse to consider someone for a position because they don’t have a degree, especially when they have a decade of professional experience doing the job?  I know of some folks who feel that way and I also know of some job-seekers who would be terrific additions to any company but who lack a required BS.  And that is BS of a different sort.  Learning in school vs. learning in the real world produces some very different outcomes as I’m sure you found out if you wound up working in a field you studied in school.

I always look for the stuff you can’t teach – ethics, work standards, intelligence, and creativity.  I agree that everyone can benefit from a formal education but that’s more so they learn to read, interpret, and express themselves orally and in writing, which are things one can learn elsewhere.

Do you evaluate a piece of paper or the person in front of you?  Think you’ve missed any Marios?  Thoughts?

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