Announcement: At Unlearning Labs, we bring our first guest to speak with us about what learning looks like in the world of culinary arts. The world of learning is vastly different and it is in our benefit to hear from diverse voices. 

Let’s learn about learning from a chef, who fell in love with the culinary arts and never looked back. Pratik Mungre, currently an Executive Chef at The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse grew up in India and loved watching his grandmother cook scrumptious meals in the kitchen. His curiosity for food and flavors inspired him to venture into culinary arts in college and eventually join the most well-known chefs in the world. 

For this article, we focused on one question: How do chefs learn? 

We broke this question down into four pieces:

  1. A chef’s learning journey
  2. Shadow first, then create
  3. The value of practice and consistency
  4. Lessons and takeaways

1. A chef’s learning journey

If you have been around culinary artists, you must know that their professions demand speed and quality on equal scales. Chefs working in casual to fine-dining restaurants have to work on their craft and delivery without any compromises.

In my conversation with Pratik, he shared two highlights about his learning journey:

  1. As a chef, you have to perform every day, similar to an athlete. Guests do not understand that you are tired, bored, frustrated, or not in the mood. It is key to train your mind and body to perform at the highest possible standards daily.

My takeaway: I loved his insight into training the mind. We have to train our brains to learn and perform. 

  1. You never stop learning and teaching. Cooking is an art. Somedays you learn to master your art and some days you teach.

My takeaway: I appreciated the focus on teaching. In all professions, there is an opportunity to pay it forward and it is something we should include in our journey. 

2. Shadow first, then create

Every chef’s journey begins with shadowing their superiors. Shadowing is vital to learn the foundational skills and build the muscle memory to do the task without supervision. As chefs continue learning, they earn trust and the opportunity to perform a part of the job without supervision. They move from part of the job to copying and mastering the dish. Once they learn to copy, they get the opportunity to curate and then create. The journey from shadow to create is based on trust, a repetitive showcase of skills, and a passion for learning. 

My conversation with Pratik sparked a few questions. How often do people in other industries shadow their seniors for a long duration? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have peer learning opportunities with hands-on experience? 

3. The value of practice and consistency

My conversation with Pratik brought two values to the surface – practice and consistency. Chefs target to be better every day, by performing the same task every day. Passion drives rigor and builds momentum

Pratik shared two highlights about the value of practice and consistency:

  1. As a chef, you perform at your highest but you do the same thing every day. Your goal does not change everyday. This repetitive grind can be frustrating and might lead to drop in motivation. At these moments, the passion for perfection saves the day. 
  2. After a point in the chefs’ learning journey, you know what daily improvement looks like. You have to strive to reach that level where minute changes in performance are easy to observe. These changes keep you going! 

This reminds me of a quote by Michael Jordan. 

‘I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

4. Learnings and Takeaways

I asked Pratik for his top lessons and takeaways from his journey.

  • Be humble – It is supposed to be a learning journey and journeys are never predictable.
  • Learn from everyone – If you focus on your art, it builds the ability to learn from everyone. 
  • Strive for an open mind – Look for signals that help you grow and flourish. Ignore the noise.  

Unlearning Thought

If you want to be a great chef, work with a great chef. This applies to every aspect of life.