Tonight on dorm, about 10 students of the 16 that live on my dorm descended upon my apartment with those ramen noodle packs originally invented by Momofuku Andon. They wanted hot water, which I provided gladly.
One boy was planning on eating one of these noodle packs as well… but I reminded him that he is allergic to gluten. The noodles contained wheat. Disappointed, he left. I called after him, “Hey are you still hungry?”
He came back. In about 3 minutes, I initiated him into the essence of chopping vegetables, sautéing onions, adding spices, remembering to include salt. We had a little tomato sauce going in about 10 minutes.
“It smells great,” he said. “But it looks weird.” I told him it would look even weirder, and I got down some Asian-style bean thread noodles. These are made with mung bean flour, and contain no gluten. So eventually, he had a french-ish tomato sauce on Asian mei fun noodles.
The dish I made was haphazard. Slightly fewer than 2 dozen grape tomatoes halved, a slice of onion, two cloves of garlic, some olive oil, some butter, a diced carrot, some herbs, layered over mung-bean flour. Hardly the stuff of legend.
But a whole bunch of kids suddenly want to learn how to cook. The smell drifting down the hallway was divine. Suddenly students are thinking about food in a serious way. And I’m excited about the possibilities.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the opening his gluten allergy gave me. It wouldn’t have been possible without the mise en place kitchen culture that I’ve begun cultivating.
Between those two things, though, I’ve begun to draw this dormitory together in a new way. And later, after bedtime, when kids were still hanging out in the hall, it was clear that a wall between American and international students had begun to break down.
I was able to ask for bedtime, too, by reminding them that I was less likely to cook if that meant I also needed to do the dishes, and have my dorm up too late at night, and have dormitory responsibilities unfulfilled. They got that. They got all of it.
Most of all, though, it set me thinking about the idea that I don’t really have mise en place in my classroom… except if I have my computer with me, and a way to make what is on my computer or Internet connection accessible to my students — a projector, a whiteboard, a transparency projector, a printer. Marcus Aurelius came from the Internet Classics Archive, and the school copying machine.
Old-style classroom mise en place came from having construction paper and markers. New mise en place comes from having the old stuff around, but also an entirely new set of search skills, and a set of intentions about what to teach, and when, and how. Hmmm.