retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In a story yesterday about how cooking schools seem to be attracting younger, smarter talent, we commented:

    Y’know, creating culinary scholarship programs is something that every food retailer ought to do. If they could sponsor cooking schools and contests, and try to attract more young people to a food-oriented career, it’d help raise the level of commitment and talents for the entire food biz. We read all the time about stores and chains that offer their employees various kinds of scholarships, but rarely do we see programs specifically targeting food. It seems to make a lot of sense.

This position seemed to strike a cord in the MNB community.

MNB user Nicole Schubert wrote:

I had to write and tell you how much I love your support of bringing young people with culinary backgrounds into the food industry. I am 29 and the product developer for a nationally branded candy company - and until a few years ago I was a professional pastry chef. I have loved food my whole life, but I never thought I'd end up doing what I do now, and I love it.

I had 2 degrees and was working a decent but unfulfilling job when I decided what I really want to do was follow my childhood dream of becoming a chef. A culinary school diploma later, I was a pastry chef at a great restaurant run by a James Beard award-winner, and teaching at a local culinary school. That's when a colleague told me she was consulting to a candy company that was looking for someone just like me: someone young, enthusiastic and creative to help bring their ideas to fruition. Flash forward: I've been here two years and I still love my job. It is the perfect combination of science and creativity. And you know what? I never ever knew a job like this existed, because culinary schools only prepare you to be a restaurant or personal chef. There is a whole world of interesting, intellectually challenging non-food service positions open to chefs, and most us don't even know it.

So the next time a food company is looking for R&D staff, instead of looking only for food scientists, they should do a little recruiting at culinary schools. And Kevin, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you are someday the parent of a professional chef. My parents can attest that the bragging rights are very satisfying...

Not to mention the dinners.

Actually, Nicole puts her finger on an important point here when she writes about “food scientists.” We’ve long thought that the problem with too many retailers is that they view food and food sales as some sort of scientific or business formula. In fact, food is art. Food is beauty. Food is culture.

And we don’t mean just gourmet food. There are few things in the world as satisfying as a great meatloaf, or a wonderful quesadilla, or even just a juicy cheeseburger. But too many of us have lost touch with this fact.

MNB user Tom Cameron-Fawkes had some additional ruminations:

Your report on the increase in young people attending cooking schools as the first step to a career in the food industry was very interesting.

In high school I got a summer job in a huge kitchen at a construction camp in northern Canada. ( Yes, construction camps do have Chefs) I hated that job! Up every morning 4:30 to be at work at 5:00; stuck out in the middle of no where, making toast for five hundred guys, prepping vegetables all day, using a cricket bat to kill the mosquitoes and black flies! "Yes Chef", "No Chef", "Right away Chef"!

Of course I was making $400 a week with nowhere to spend it until September while my buddies in the big city down south were making $55 a week and were broke by payday! But beyond that I worked for a Chef who took the time to teach me. I learned more from that Chef in ten weeks than any other teacher was capable of teaching me in ten months.

You are right! Being a Chef is a hard way to make a living. The hours are long and the work demanding. Learning to be a Chef is even harder and more demanding. Kids who want to be Chefs are setting themselves up for years of toil and anonymity, moving from kitchen to kitchen serving apprenticeship under good Chefs who run their kitchens with military like discipline and have already paid their dues.

Good cooking is an art and all cooking is good cooking.

These kids will learn skills that will serve them well outside the kitchen for the rest of their lives. So no matter whether they become the next Emeril, Nigella, or Jamie or not, they will learn the self-discipline, determination and dedication that will serve them well in life.

Forty years later, a dinner invitation to our house is the hottest ticket in town! I started to teach my Son to cook when he was twelve and today we have cooking competitions between ourselves. I am on the verge of having my first cookbook published.

But, God, how I hated that job!

Tom, when your cookbook comes out, have your publisher send us a review copy. Maybe we can sell a few books for you…

And MNB user Mary McMillen wrote:

What a great idea, for all the reasons you mentioned!! We have cooking schools, though they are for “sport cooks,” and not for accreditation. I really like the idea of a “Buehler’s Culinary Scholarship.” Thanks!

You’re welcome. If you’re looking for an outside judge, just let us know.

We wrote yesterday about a story saying that kids like sweetened cereals because it makes them feel empowered. This may be true, but it was a sentiment that didn’t sit well with the members of the MNB community who wrote in.

Among them were MNB user Jem Welsh:

Kevin, don't you find it ironic that sugar-laden cereals' growth in our culture coincides with the dramatic rise in diabetes and obesity in children? You can empower them, but come you really think they can understand this? What's wrong with empowering them with knowledge...not Cap'n Crunch, for crying out loud!

And another MNB user chimed in:

What's wrong with a little kid empowerment, you ask? Plenty. Our society has gone kid nuts. I am a former teacher and experience has taught me that children are happiest when there are some controls in their lives.

For many parents and children today, that does not exist. Already 15 years ago this was brought home to me when I watched a toddler in a bread section of a grocery in St Louis move along the bottom shelf of hamburger buns sitting on one bag after another of bun packages. The mother did nothing to stop that. On another occasion, I observed an elementary school aged boy roughly handling and playing with hand dipped candles hanging on spindles for sale in another grocery. The checker told me that the candles were $20 a pair and that they had a lot of trouble with unsupervised children damaging merchandise in the store.

Try visiting garage sales of parents of children who are selling expensive children's toys for cents on the dollar. The toys are often hardly used or worn and the amount of toys at any given sale is enormous. My childhood memories include playing with elm seeds outside and feeding them to my dolls. I had toys, and I used them, but also occupied myself with creative use of materials at hand. My own children played with the cardboard box that our portable dishwasher came in for years. (We even moved it several times, slipping it over the top of the dishwasher). Kids today have to have every bell and whistle available to them, and then don't play with them. My six-year-old grand daughter is getting rid of a plastic trash bag full of Barbie dolls and accessories that she does not play with any more.

Teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to discipline (my husband teaches in the inner city) and yet, these same kids are so busy misbehaving they cannot be bothered to learn. Promotion to the next grade no matter what (so why should they care if they get failing grades), leads to kids not being able to read when they graduate.

Children today have no childhood. They are allowed to act as a grownups from a very early age.

Kevin, I know this has nothing to do with food or the industry, but you struck a nerve with me. I love kids and enjoy spending time with my four grandchildren, but I expect that they behave. So many people today think that kids do not have to behave or follow any rules but their own. I shudder to think what the world will be like when they are adults.

There are good parents and lousy parents. Good teachers and lousy teachers. Good coaches and lousy coaches. And so on.

We’re not to the point of shuddering yet. But what concerns us about this generation is that too few members of it seem to have the kind of work ethic that we think is necessary to survive and thrive.

Our kids don’t. Have to admit it. Sometimes we try to force the issue, and sometimes we indulge them, and the only thing for sure is that we’re probably screwing them up nine ways from Sunday. In the final analysis, the best thing we can do is provide a good example…and we would suggest that the problems of the younger generation might be a direct reflection of the misplaced priorities of our generation.

But that’s probably another column, to be done on another day. A slow news day.

Finally, mostly because we were feeling whimsical yesterday, we finished MNB with all the lyrics to Randy’s Newman’s satirical “Short People.”

One MNB user wrote in to say she was worried that we might be offending some people and that we’d be deluged with emails from people who thought the lyrics were serious. But the MNB community is savvier than that…we didn’t get one such letter.

We did get a lot of letters mentioning the lyrics, though. A typical one came from MNB user Paul Woodard:

Any publication ending with "Short People" is worth reading daily (maybe even twice)!!! While probably not a long-term feature of MNB, certainly begins the day with a smile..

Good. That makes our day. Smiling is good.

Another great songwriter/philosopher once sang, “Wrinkles only go where smiles have been.” (He’s the same guy who sang, “If we didn’t laugh, we’d all go insane…”)

KC's View: