Gourmet Teaching

By Brendan Joseph Ries

Grammar is the recipe. Lexicon is the ingredient.

Pragmatics make a gourmet dish.


Every dish works off of a recipe, with certain ingredients. Varying off recipe and adding one’s creativity is what separates a chef from a meager cook. I am hoping that my students, one day, cook gourmet foods.

Of course, I must give my students certain basic culinary recipes to quench their prerequisite needs. In Gourmet 101, my beginner course, I find it essential to show my students how to use the measuring utensils, work with the most basic of ingredients and follow an outlined recipe referred to as “ingredient-recipe.” It is important to mix the study of recipe with ingredient knowledge. Both complement each other and a varied understanding is needed for future gourmet accuracy.

These students need to communicate and finish tasks. I feel that the best way to bring it out of these students is to “focus-on-form.” (Ellis, 2001) It is extremely important for students to get meaning and communication out of the recipe. When we are cooking apple strudel we are focusing on the apple, not the strudel. What works well with my subject the apple? What spices bring out the taste? If my students are having a problem with a certain recipe, I draw attention to that problem. For example, they might be adding eggs before the flour and the dough is affected. 

As well as understanding the recipe, students must understand the lexical order. They go hand and hand. We do not “dough the roll,” we “roll the dough.” We might have to re-cast and bake another loaf of bread. Observe these chunks of ingredients that collocate so eloquently! This is all hands-on, so, hopefully this problem will become engrained implicitly. To reinforce this implicit learning I use the Cook “Book Flood” Approach. (Decarrico, 2001) Input of exposure must keep coming in multiple forms. However, we must never forget the importance of student output!

Yes, try and use the recipe. I am here with the feedback. “The students must have space to correct themselves.” (Decarrico, J.D.Larsen-Freemen, 2002) Of course, my work is in vain when students do not notice such things as putting the garlic in and letting it sauté before the pepper. This “noticing hypothesis” in cooking, I feel, is very important for later discourse. Highlighting the input is extremely important. Many of the ingredients are important but for a certain recipe, one ingredient might stand out crucially above all others. Is it palatable? I want these students to find negotiation of meaning and understand the denotation and connotation. For example, in classic restaurant etiquette the quality of the “bread and butter” is the “bread and butter.”

Next, lets talk about the collocation and morphology of ingredients. It is important to understand where these ingredients come from and what other ingredients they collocate and mix best with for different recipes. When my students begin to understand and find in themselves the ingredient connections and usage with other forms, this is the beginning of the road to gourmet.

Affix knowledge adds a lot to the prowess of the student. I don’t want them to be carefree or careless. As well, I want them to know the difference between carefree and careless. We study culture and depth of the ingredients. To acquire the highest form of culinary skill it is essential that students understand the semantic field of ingredients. They must become familiar with the use of the ingredients in the recipe, how many uses ingredients have, and what accentuates each taste.

Knowing an ingredient isn’t enough. To cook gourmet foods, it is important to understand what ingredients tend to co-occur with another. “The meaning of an ingredient has a great deal to do with the ingredients with which it commonly associates.” (Decarrico, 2001) All the great chefs know what ingredients work well in making a gourmet masterpiece. “Ingredients appear to be organized into semantically related sets in the mind, and thus the associations attached to a ingredient will affect the way that it is stored in the brain.”(Decarrico, 2001)

I must Present-Practice-Produce with as little repetition as possible. Too much repetition facilitates lazy chefs. I might give a few students certain parts of a recipe and ask them to put it all together, create something. I call this “recipe-ing.”  I change my teaching methods like the daily special.

We want these forms of cooking to exhibit meaning in student lives. They might not have the ability as of yet to cook soufflé. Some do not have the ability to cook eggs. We must start simple and work little by little. In my class there is no time for dish “Krashen”-burn. Soufflé is in Gourmet 405. The recipe and preparation is too difficult for them right now.  I must first be ‘prescriptive’ with the recipe, however I am much more interested in the ‘descriptive’ recipe. With enough exposure students begin to construct their own connections.

Gourmet teaching does not produce sous-chefs. I am instilling gourmet. Anyone should be able to follow a simple recipe. I want my students to get creative with this cooking in various contexts in the future. This is where we work gourmet into the “ingredient-recipe.” Make you own recipe, find one’s own tastes, learn that more knowledge of the ingredients pertains to using less ingredients. Cooking prose and poetics.

I mix my students like a spy martini, shaken not stirred. I put the French chef with the Italian chef, the Japanese chef with the Argentinean chef, the Indonesian chef with the Cuban chef and so on and so forth. This is how my students expand into the gourmet realm. They use the basics of what they have learned and now through socio-cultural pragmatics they build and blend on their ingredients and usage. They expand. They experience. They develop. They help each other deal with locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary “cooking acts.” (Yule, 1996) However, these novice chefs need to reach a threshold of what I call “Linguine” Proficiency (Yule, 1996) before any type of gourmet transfer can take place.

Sometimes chefs cannot understand one another, especially the French and the Italian chef in Gourmet 405. They both have much to offer, in this realm, so I give them exercises to improve their use of ingredients. They understand advanced recipes. I give them role-plays and scaffolds so they reach a point of “Linguine” proficiency together. Both of these chefs have their own styles of dealing with the “Linguine.” The Italian chef prefers butter, garlic, basil, squid, and an Italian white wine for the sauce. The French chef prefers heavy cream, pepper, parsley, escargot and a French white wine.

Of course, the biggest obstacle here is to find a common ground on the wine chosen. This in itself could be a total disaster and I have seen many chefs quit the course here. As Chef Malinowski states, this decline in communion or lowered self-esteem can lead to pragmatic malfunction. Usually the wine needs to be mixed 50/50 in this case. The most promising chefs begin to infuse another classmates style through discourse and become even better chefs. Questions become the norm. Why do you add this spice? What does that mean?  Are you sure you can add that there? What do you think about trying to add this here? From their past use of a limited amount of ingredients, they create together and expand their views into new forms of syntax.

For my students to progress into gourmet cooking, I must be open to their cultural differences. Of course I must understand why they cook this way. Many people from different cultures will use the recipe in a style similar to their culture’s ideology.  Gourmet cooking associates with learning a new language in this regard. Monotonous repetition does not produce gourmet chefs. My students must find the answers in themselves. This is a new way of teaching. In the past the teacher has said, “This is how you must do it!” Now we bring in their own culture, content-based, what is relevant to them? I stimulate this process of student output through the use of listening, reading, writing and speaking.

As I teach in this realm I am progressing. In my younger days I liked to show off my great cooking skills and smile to the replies of how great my teaching is. It is better to see students progress into this gourmet realm saying, “How great my cooking has become.”  Viewing their progression in learning has become, shall I say, a delicious experience.




1. Decarrico. J. (2001). ”Vocabulary Learning and Teaching,” Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. Ed. M. Celle-Murcia, p. 285-301. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers

2. Decarrico, J. D.Larsen-Freemen (2002). “Grammar.” In: Norbert Schmitt (Ed.) An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, London: Arnold Publishers, p. 19-34

3. Yule, G. (1996). Pragmatics. OUP, p. 47-58.

4. Ellis, Rod (2001). “Introduction: Investigating Form-focused Instruction”. Language Learning Research Club, University of Michigan. p. 1-35

5. Ellis, Rod (2006). “Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: an SLA Perspective” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 1, p. 83-107

6. Seal, Bernard D. (1991). “Vocabulary Learning and Teaching,” Teaching English as a Second Language. Marianne Celce-Mercia, Ed. p. 296-311

7, Shen, Fan (1989). “The Classroom and the Wider Culture: Identity as a Key to Learning English Composition.” College Composition and Communication. Vol. 40, No.4, p. 459-466