This week my Culinary Arts 2 students participated in their first MasterChef Challenge as our Yeast Bread unit came to a close. Teams were given a formula for a rich and lean yeast bread dough and were to prepare the dough without recipe directions into something AMAZING. One day was given to prepare and shape the dough and another to bake and present their creation to a panel of judges.
I sent out a staff-wide email a week prior to the event requesting judges. Within the email was a link to a google form for staff to sign up for the time slot that worked best. Staff members love to participate and it really is what makes this challenge feel authentic for the students. It is so meaningful when staff and students engage in a different classroom environment. For some students, this is the one class that they feel successful in. To have the opportunity to "shine" for teachers is powerful for them.
When students come into class on challenge days, dramatic music is playing with the MasterChef symbol projected on the screen. I hand each team a yeast bread formula and give them the challenge rules. I let them know that they may use any ingredients that I have on the cart to incorporate into their bread. I also explain that the judges will be a panel made up of staff members on campus and that they will be evaluating their creations based on taste, texture, appearance, & creativity. All ipads and other digital devices are off limits until their dough is made and then can be used as a resource to generate ideas.
The initial reaction when students hear they will not be given a recipe is shock. Students think I am asking the impossible. However, what happens next is magical. The classroom begins to buzz with energy as students scurry to their kitchens to begin preparing their masterpieces. Students know that each team member brings an important dynamic to the team and the collaboration that happens is exciting to watch. As students begin making their dough, you can almost see the transformation in their demeanor turn from fear to confidence. They soon realize they really DO know how to make this dough....they don't need no stinkin' recipe!
With this new found confidence in their yeast bread making abilities, the creative juices start to flow. They have successfully made a yeast bread dough without a recipe, now they are about to make it into something AMAZING! It is awesome to witness the collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity that happens within each team. They are fully immersed in this experience and can't wait to create something special.
The next day students come in and are ready to get right to work. I tell them they have 40 minutes to bake and finalize their bread before the judges arrive. It is so fun to see all of their creations take shape. It blows my mind how varied their breads are and how much their personalities shine through each one. Students take such care in the finishing touches and plating so that they will have the perfect presentation.
As judges come in, I direct them to a special judging table set with rubrics, a pen, glass of water, napkin, and plate. I explain the challenge rules and the criteria that they will be evaluating on. I stagger the teams based on who is finished first and have them present their dish to the judging panel sharing what they made and how they made it. I tell students that they need to "sell it". It is important to let the judges know why their creation stands apart from everyone else's. I encourage judges to give feedback not only verbally, but on their rubric so students know exactly what they did well and what could have been improved. The moment that students bring up their creations they are glowing. It is so heartwarming to hear them talk about their creations with such pride knowing that not only did they make it without a recipe, they made into something AMAZING! Students are all ears as the judges give suggestions and express what they enjoyed most about their bread.
Once the judges leave, I tabulate the scores to determine which teams have earned first, second and third place. The day following the challenge, I award the winning teams with badges with varying amount of XP attached. I also show a slide presentation of all the bread creations from my 3 classes on the screen and talk about what I loved about each one. The judges rubrics used to evaluate the creations are given back to students so they can look through and discuss the feedback with their team. I find this time of reflection to be extremely valuable in the experience and gives me an opportunity to discuss and provide encouragement to the teams.
The MasterChef Challenge has proved to be the ultimate demonstration of learning. Students demonstrate their understanding of the methods and vocabulary by ditching the recipe and then make it into something that is uniquely their own. Students will not soon forget the memories and learning that happened in this unit. It is my hope that they will carry these skills with them long after my class and build on them for years to come.
Culinary teacher & Discovery School Lead in Southern Oregon, passionate about finding innovative ways to make learning magical for students. Love to gamify!