In today’s episode, we speak with Pearce Miller, a culinary educator and entrepreneur, who is revolutionizing student-centric academic program models.
Pearce has shaped the academic policy for several schools, improving retention and overall student performance. He taught in the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, served as the President of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, and filled the role of Vice President of Academics for Le Cordon Bleu.
Listen as Pearce chats about developing new ways to connect with students to match this new digital environment, hybrid education, and his personal teaching philosophy.
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Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Pearce Miller, a passionate educator and entrepreneur who is a master at developing successful academic program models. As a career college professional, he has helped shape the academic policy for several schools, improving retention and overall student performance.
Pearce has taught at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts and served as the president of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Le Cordon Bleu Program, as well as vice president of academics for Le Cordon Bleu, where he developed curriculum and worked closely with our good friend, and an Ultimate Dish podcast favorite, Chef Edward Leonard.
Join me today as I chat with Pearce about his role in culinary education, creating
effective academic business models, and his love for hockey.
And there he is. Dr. Pearce. How are you, buddy?
Pearce Miller: All right! I’m doing great here Bachmann. How are you?
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh! How long has it been? It’s been way too long. You look so good! How’s life in the Burg?
Pearce Miller: I model myself after you and Chef Ed Leonard. I’m trying to keep up.
Kirk Bachmann: You better try harder! But I do like what you have on your head there, buddy. We’re going to talk about the Pens a little bit today. That’s it. That’s the ultimate. Nice hat.
Thanks so much for joining us today, buddy. How is pseudo-retired life in the Burgh?
Pearce Miller: Retired life is great. It’s lots of golf. Of course, you’ve got to throw some hockey games in there. A little bit of, as we say in the Burgs, “filler football.” And of course, I have the ultimate honey-do list. As the free time becomes greater, the list gets longer.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh yeah. You mentioned football. As a lifelong sports fan – and I’m going back several years here – I can remember the first time I came to visit you and the folks at the school. I came through the tunnel. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Coming through the tunnel to originally see the infamous Heinz Field, I think, Three Rivers Stadium, which I think now are called PNC Park. I’m not sure what the football field is called anymore. And then the rivers! The way the city just sits there: the Allegheny, the Ohio River of course, and then the Monongahela? Did I get that right?
Pearce Miller: Monongahela. There you go. What a view when you come through that tunnel and you see all that! Little known useless fact: I was at PNC Park – when I was probably supposed to be at the school – on the fourth day that it was ever opened, watching the Pirates play. That whole area has really built up, hasn’t it?
Pearce Miller: Absolutely. You mentioned Three River Stadium. Three River Stadium was actually in between PNC Park and now, it used to Heinz Field, it’s now Acrisure Stadium.
Kirk Bachmann: Acrisure, there you.
Pearce Miller: Acrisure, the insurance company out of Michigan, if I’m not mistaken. Three River Stadium was in between those two. They took that area and expanded it out. We also have Rivers Casino down to the left of Acrisure Stadium, so we have the conglomerate all right there.
Kirk Bachmann: All that’s been built out. Lots of restaurants and people coming over the foot-bridge and attending the games and such. I absolutely love that.
Pittsburgh was always kind of interesting. I lived in Chicago. Tons of people live in the city. Same with Portland, Oregon when I lived there. People live in the city. But Pittsburgh’s a little different. Five o’clock, six o’clock, BOOM! That city empties out, doesn’t it?
Pearce Miller: It’s dead. Seven o’clock, you won’t find anybody.
Kirk Bachmann: They all head to the burbs to get home.
Let’s talk education right away. First and foremost, we get a little background. I may not know this. Are you originally from Pennsylvania?
Pearce Miller: Yes. Pittsburgh born and bred, all my life.
Kirk Bachmann: Your whole life. Never moved away?
Pearce Miller: Never moved.
Kirk Bachmann: Wow. Rare these days. So let’s talk education right off the bat. I know how important education is to you, always has been. Some of my fondest memories, Pearce, of your style of impacting students included – I’m not going to ask you to sing today – but playing the guitar. I’ll let you speak to it. How did that work? Was the guitar to draw people in, take the focus off of what you were saying, and make your students part of the conversation? You were a facilitator of knowledge long before we wanted teachers to be facilitators of knowledge. Where does all that stem from? And are you still playing the guitar when you’re teaching?
Pearce Miller: Kirk, I think it encompasses a number of different things. I started bringing it because I think it was a way to connect directly with students. What student these days doesn’t love music in some way, shape or form, and there are so many different styles of music. More importantly, I wanted the students to see me as just another person, not necessarily the teacher, the instructor, the head of the class. Later on, as I became president of the culinary institute, they viewed me as a president, and that was something that was a little scary. [The guitar] just bridged the gap.
A lot of times, students could relate directly to that. I used to tell students, “You know, you never know what somebody knows until you really get down and spend some time with those individuals.” I think that’s really critical, not only from students to the instructor – me at that time – but from myself to the students. A lot of times I found out we had some very talented students that wrote music, sang, danced.
Whatever they did, they had a lot of talent outside of just trying to become a culinarian and graduate from school. We lost sight of that, so I think that’s critical as an instructor, as a really student-centered educator – to know who you’re students are, know where they’re coming from. Sometimes, just let your hair down. You know what? They could see that I could play. I really couldn’t sing too well, but that’s okay.
Kirk Bachmann: Your teachers, you have to talk about that a little bit as well. You were intentional about you’re level of comfort in front of the classroom. When your teachers see that, they start to realize, “Wow! I can change it up a little bit in the classroom as well.” Everybody’s got a different learning style is what I’ve learned over the years. There’s not just one way to get it across. This idea of facilitating knowledge, putting knowledge out there and letting people absorb it and interpret it in their own special ways is probably the right way to go.
I’m suggesting that you were doing that before I even thought about it. I’ve seen you with the guitar in front of the classroom. I’m thinking, “What is he doing?”
Pearce Miller: You have different styles of learners, Kirk. You know this. You have auditory learners; they need to hear it. You have visual learners; they need to see it. You have kinesthetic learners; they need to touch it. They need to actually do it.
That’s where a lot of our culinary students are and that’s where a lot of people are just to begin with. They need to be some part of all three of those. They need to touch it. They need to feel it. It needs to hit them where they’re at emotionally or physically and psychologically. They need all those aspects.
I think that’s really critical when we look at education, particularly as we’re trying to make a difference for our students’ lives. The way we’re really trying to touch them is the learning that I have, the learning that we’re trying to instill, is it reaching them at the level that’s going to make them most successful? I think the really good instructors out there – and there are a lot of them – they learn to incorporate all three of those facets, and they learn what each student needs individually. That’s really important.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said, Dr. Miller. I love that.
Let’s talk about you. It all started at Slippery Rock, right?
Pearce Miller: That’s correct.
Kirk Bachmann: Health education, first and foremost. A little birdie told me that you might have been just a second away from the US Olympic Team, polo, water polo.
Pearce Miller: That is correct. 1980 Olympic water polo team. Tryouts at Lake Placid, New York. Those that are a little older might remember Lake Placid. I swam. I was All-State in high school in swimming. I continued swimming in college as well. Water polo became my first love. I had a great, great coach.
My coach for water polo is one of those that I tried to take a lot of those things with me into the classroom and to teaching. He could reach anybody and everybody differently at any given time. He just had that down-to-earth style even though he was a brilliant, brilliant man. Great teacher, by the way. He was a great instructor, but an awesome coach.
Actually, my water polo coach ended up in the Water Polo Hall of Fame. For people who don’t know there is one, there is one!
Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Well before we dive into the journey for culinary school, I’d love you to walk you through your personal journey around becoming more and more educated and specialized, and how that all connects to the amazing hospitality that only Dr. Miller was able to pull off. For those who can see it, this was many moons ago. 2007. Back in those days, I used to travel around quite a bit and oftentimes had the great honor of speaking at graduation, but only Dr. Miller got my name up in lights.
Pearce Miller: That was a very special day. 2007. You were only about 30 at the time, right?
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. God bless him. There’s a reason I love you.
Let’s talk about you. When did education really, really start to set in, and you knew, “This is what I was born to do”?
Pearce Miller: Right out of college, I was offered a teaching job at Gateway High School in Louisville, Pennsylvania. I jumped at the chance. My water polo coach at the time had wanted me to go back to school and get a Master’s and have a grad assistant-ship. I was actually tired of going to school. It was four years. Swimming and water polo took a lot of time and a lot of effort, practices twice a day every day.
I decided I wanted to take that teaching job. Unfortunately, back at that time, schools were starting to close. People were not having as many children and they were closing a lot of the junior highs and elementary schools and merging schools. My job was taken two and half years into my teaching career. I had to make a decision: Was I going to bounce around all over schools or even states or get out of teaching?
My assistant principal at the time told me, “Pearce, you should really think about getting out of teaching.” So I looked at some opportunities and eventually fell into working for Ponderosa Steakhouses. Eventually, I worked my way up to becoming a general manager. I got a little tired of that, too. You see the same positions. At some point, you get to that highest level and you can’t progress anymore.
I had some friends who used to come into the restaurant, and they were looking into opening a bar restaurant. I said, “That sounds like a great idea.” Bought into that. Owned a bar restaurant for about five years. That’s a very, very tough business, to own your own business, particularly in food service. A couple of my other partners who were more of the financial backing decided they didn’t want to continue. I had to look for another opportunity. Pennsylvania Culinary Institute at that time provided an opportunity.
I started in as an instructor. That was back in 1997. Around 2000, 2001, Career Education came along and bought Pennsylvania Culinary’s part of a conglomerate of schools. I started working my way up through positions: Dean of Academics, Dean of Retention, Vice President of Academics, and eventually President of the school.
During that time, I really had the inclination: I said, “If I’m going to progress in this career, I need more education. My Master’s Degree is only going to get me so far.” The accrediting bodies who accredit our programs, they want people with advanced degrees. At that time, Career Education would pay for you to go back to school.
I took an opportunity and went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and got my Master’s of Education. I loved my journey back then.
Unfortunately, I waited until I was about forty years old before I went back. If I could tell students out there or even other professionals listening to this podcast, is Don’t wait. Take the opportunity, go back to school as soon as you can. Online now provides an opportunity. That was part of my dissertation, so we’ll probably touch that a little bit later. We’ll bring that up again.
My professors were so good, I decided I wanted to continue on and get a doctorate. I started the doctorate. At that time, my position changed for Career Education. Pennsylvania Culinary eventually would close, and I went to work for the corporation. That’s where I met you, Mr. Bachmann. I worked for educational Cordon Bleu schools and traveled across the United States.
Unfortunately, I had gone all the way through my program. I was ready to start my dissertation, and traveling was just really, really difficult to complete a dissertation. I just couldn’t do it. My time lapsed. In the meantime, further down the road, Career Education decided to close Le Cordon Bleu schools, as you well know. I thought, “Boy, this is a great time for me to take advantage of the severance package. I’m going to go back to school and finish my dream.”
My uncle was a college professor, and I’d always really looked up to him. He was the only uncle I had, by the way. My dad was an only child, and my mom had one brother, my uncle. He and I sat down and talked about it. “You know, I’m going to go back to school and finish.”
I got an opportunity at Point Park University. This past April, 2022 – April 12 to be exact – I defended my dissertation through a Zoom video chat, by the way. Online. Got my Doctorate in Educational Administration and Leadership.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love the passion in your voice, too.
Can you back up a little bit? You started teaching at high school. Walked away from that, got into the restaurant business, and then you came back to teaching. Was there some serendipity in all of that? You went around the block instead of going across the street, and then you ended up where you belonged. Two skill sets, good teacher, understood the industry from the hospitality side. It pulled you right into Topeka, at the time.
Pearce Miller: That led into that wonderful picture you were showing earlier, Kirk. The picture in lights of Chef Bachmann is one of the things we prided ourselves – in Pittsburgh – was we were going to be an outstanding customer service institution. That carried into the classroom as well as with anybody that came to visit us. Not unlike yourself, any dignitaries or local people who wanted to come in and see the school, take part in it. Eventually, we opened a restaurant in the school. That was another big deal.
That hospitality expanded. One of the things we try to do as a group when we sit down at our management meetings is say, “How can we really make this special?” I have to be honest. I’m not sure we ever topped the Kirk Bachmann in lights.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Let’s parlay from that. It wasn’t just hospitality to your customers, to your students. What I recall, the culture that you established in that organization around taking care and supporting your staff was also unrivaled. This idea of professional development. In those days, through the American Culinary Federation, to an instructor who was eligible, I believe that campus had almost 100 percent participation – not just in membership with the American Culinary Federation, but certification. It was outstanding. From Chef Bill Hunt to Art Inzinga (They didn’t pay me to say their names on the podcast, by the way.) They were a part of that culture.
How important is, in your mind, professional development for the team that you’re building?
Pearce Miller: I think it’s one of the most important things you can do, Kirk. You touched on all of that. It started with Bill Hunt and Art Inzinga, and Rikk Panzera. All the chefs who were so adamant in participation in the ACF. Across the United States, we had the highest participation in the ACF than any other city or any other chapter. It was done by chapter, so it was the Pittsburgh chapter. That carried over into the school. We had the hot food team and the knowledge pool team very active in the ACF with ACF accreditation, making sure we were following all the policies and requirements that they wanted from a curriculum standpoint.
Making sure that the first and foremost attitude from our school was one of hospitality. Professional development comes out of that. You can’t just do hospitality for the students or for the people who come in; you have to do it for your staff as well. So we provided the same things. We had some outstanding in-service days for the faculty, phenomenal opportunities. We took trips. At one time, we had sabbaticals for the chefs and sent some of the chefs overseas. They would come back to in-service and give a presentation.
We brought in all kinds of individuals. Chef Byron Bardy came in, as you well know. Certified Master Chef. He was the executive chef for Heinz Corporation. I had to actually take Bill Hunt over to China, which is another story for another time.
That just furthered right in. You had Chef Leonard on a while earlier. His whole focus is hospitality. What are we doing for our guests? What are we doing for our customers? And those things just all go hand in hand. You can’t fake that. You really need to provide the nuts and the bolts and the nitty-gritty. It’s got to be part of the atmosphere. The only real way to make that part of the atmosphere is you have to involve everybody and you have to make it important to them, too.
Kirk Bachmann: It has to be genuine and sincere. 100 percent.
Let’s talk a little bit about teaching and learning strategy. This whole idea of how people learn, pedagogy. Pearce, what’s your perspective after all these years around developing an appropriate curriculum, particularly as it relates to pedagogy, particularly with how it relates to how people learn? You started to touch on it earlier that everyone learns differently> We have to be respectful of that and we have to acknowledge that. Let’s dive into your dissertation a little bit here.
Pearce Miller: Way to go, Kirk. It’s really simpler than everybody probably thinks that it is or spends time really looking at. There’s a few simple mantras that go with that. First, to be flexible as an instructor and with the curriculum. I think the curriculum needs to be student-centered. What do the students need to know for ten years down the road? What do they need to know for five years down the road. That’s so critical because our rapidly changing times. I read a study just a little while ago that information currently in the world that we know exists is doubling every couple of years now. It used to be ten years or fifty years. Information is so easily readable from social media to the news. Everything is just changing so fast. Your curriculum has to be able to matriculate along with what is changing with the times. Sustainable foods and how restaurants are operating now is all changing. And it’s going to change here again in the very near future. What’s important? What’s the hot ticket item?
I can tell a student, “This is absolutely critically important that you know this.” You know what? In six months, it’s something completely different.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s going to change.
Pearce Miller: We’ve learned that other things are changing. I actually wrote down a few notes. I was trying to give this some thought for you in how I want to approach it. From a pedagogy standpoint, I’ll just go back to it. Some instructors will go in and they’ll pull out information and think, “I’m going to teach this information regardless whether the students are getting it or not getting it.”
For example, you know very well – as well as Ed or any of the other chefs out there – some students, some individuals are going to become a chef in a restaurant and maybe work for a chain. Some may work for Disney. Some may decide they want to be a corporate executive chef, highfalutin country clubs or other opportunities. There are just a zillion opportunities out there. I need to be able to – we need to be able to as teachers, as curriculum writers – put together programs that are flexible enough that the students start to say, “Oh, yeah. I would really like to do that. Maybe I want to do this.” Then the faculty and the teachers, the instructors, also need to be flexible enough to say, “Yeah, this is a great idea. You can look over here. How about go to talk to so-and-so.” Or bring in guest speakers from outside that can talk to that. We brought Byron Bardy in, corporate executive chef from Heinz. That’s a pretty prestigious position. How do you get there? What’s important? Do you have to be a Master Chef? That’s a pretty highfalutin place to really try to achieve, and there aren’t that many.
I think the critical aspect from a pedagogical standpoint is, “Am I reaching the students where they want to be reached?” There’s a lot of great information out there. There’s a lot of people who know an awful lot of things about how to present food, pastry and baking, that whole genre. The critical aspect is not what I know or not what the instructor knows, but can I get that to the students? Are they really getting that information, and is it really helping them to be successful?
Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Along those lines, just taking it a step further. You’ve mentioned retention a couple of times. A big part of the puzzle, student retention. Persistence is another way to say it. Always at the center of an institution’s academic strategy.
Can you share, Pearce, from your mind, some general philosophies, not only around the importance of helping students progress, but also helping students feel like they’re succeeding in their minds? Not only according to our standards, but according to where we’re meeting them. How do we make them feel like, “I’m achieving my North Star?”
Pearce Miller: Awesome question, Kirk, because ultimately, that’s the final goal in education. Are we really making that difference? How do I make that difference to Kirk Bachmann versus that difference to Ed Leonard? Two very different people with different experiences, different backgrounds, different needs, different socio-economic status. There is a whole genre of things we can talk about. The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place. We’re seeing more and more students come in from various countries. They want an education, and English may not be their first language. It may be their second language or third language.
I think the critical aspect from a retention standpoint is understanding the needs for students. A lot of times, a learning standpoint is outside more of just the Xs and Os, so to speak, in a classroom with somebody coming in and sitting down, writing out a chapter, doing the reading, putting together, taking a test, getting a grade.
I’ve learned a couple of things, interestingly enough, in my educational journey, particularly in my doctoral programs from my professors. My first set of professors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, they did a very interesting thing. Nobody was going to fail who attempted. But, you were going to have to do A work. Now, A work for Pearce Miller might be I have to rewrite the paper three or four times. And I wrote the paper three or four times. For Kirk Bachmann, it might only be writing the paper one time, and you have an A.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s generous.
Pearce Miller: Real learning occurs in what we don’t know, not what we know. I think bringing together students from a retention standpoint is actually impacted greatly by the curriculum and how you instruct it. How you put that together. Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs for the students. If we’re not satisfying the physiological needs – the students are coming into the classroom hungry or tired – they’re not going to learn as well or do as well as if we have some of those other needs met and satisfied. Getting them up to that level, moving them up the ladder into that knowledge standpoint is understanding that there are more impacts on helping a student be successful than just taking out some information and saying, “Oh, yeah. Your danger temperature zone is over 140/141.” Whatever it is now, because it kept changing.
Kirk Bachmann: Still changing.
Pearce Miller: It’s still changing. It’s always going to change. It’ll be something new next week.
I think that’s critical, that we understand exactly how we’re impacting a student. Some students are coming in after working two jobs at night, or they’re going home and taking care of their kids. Other students don’t have any of those issues, or maybe no financial worries. Those all impact the students and retention, and understanding that aspect is critical.
Kirk Bachmann: Everything you’re mentioning, I love hearing it, it’s giving me chills. This idea of creating a culture of being student-centric. You’re absolutely right. Everyone comes to us with different situations. I see it on ground; I see it online.
I just want to back up a little bit. You’ve had the great luxury of being on a long educational journey. You had that experience in a very traditional environment where you went to the classroom and engaged with your professors and with your students. You finished up, ironically enough, with your doctorate primarily remotely through Zoom sessions and such. Some of that was because of the situation our world was in. Any thoughts on where you think education is going in the future?
I’m reading reports all the time about how much more comfortable people are in a remote learning environment, for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned. They may be taking care of loved ones. They may be working a couple of jobs to make ends meet. They may not have the ability to relocate, which was a norm. If you wanted to go to Slippery Rock, you were going to live in the dorms at Slippery Rock. Back in the day, there was no other option.
Where are we five years from now? Ten years from now? Is the whole thing shifting a little bit?
Pearce Miller: That’s interesting you ask. I’ll bring up my dissertation. It’s 244 pages long, believe it or not. My title was, “An Exploration of Assistant Principal’s Perception of Leadership Preparation and Professional Development in Pennsylvania.” Because every state has their own requirements. I had to focus on a particular area. Obviously, being in Pittsburgh and interviewing assistant principals in Pittsburgh was critical.
There’s an interesting side note to this. I had fifteen participants. Most were in their forties as an assistant principal. Some a little younger, some a little older. I did have a couple much younger assistant principals. One in particular, I believe, was 27 years old. One of the questions I asked is I wanted to find out about online learning versus on-ground learning versus hybrid learning. To a person, they all said, “On-ground.” They wanted to be in the classroom, in front of it. It was better for them.
However, most of them ended up in an online or a hybrid program. Interestingly enough, the 27 year old was the one that was the most comfortable with online learning. I found at least one aspect that I was not expecting, and that my department chair, my dissertation chair, and my committee members. One of the comments he made was, “Being online and being asked a question. In the classroom, you have to come up with a response right away and a lot of times they aren’t well thought out. Or you gauge it to who’s sitting in front of you.” Whereas online, he had a lot of time to think about what his responses were. He thought, therefore, online learning was much more impactful for him.
I think, just from what I’ve seen and what I’m reading is I think we’ll see more of a hybrid type program. It will be predominantly online, but getting together every once in a while, whether it’s in a classroom setting or in some type of other setting, getting together with your group. You can put names and faces together, or have some type of particular learning that you just can’t do sitting at home. I think you’ll start to see some of that.
The issue that goes with that is, “Does my program prepare somebody for outside of Pennsylvania if they’re out in Colorado?” How are they going to get back to Pittsburgh or wherever else the training is. That’s one of the things you’ll see that will be a little more involved as far as learning goes.
Online is here to stay. It’s going to continue to evolve. Again, for all the things you just mentioned, Kirk, it’s just too practical for people. That’s the rationale that came up. Even though my assistant principals loved on-ground learning, almost to a person who had an online program said they had to do it because they had family obligations, or the money. They didn’t want to have to pay to park in downtown Pittsburgh or drive in there. Look at the price of gas now. That’s changing how things are going to be involved with doing it.
Online learning became very, very practical. They all didn’t like it, but a lot of times, they still got an awful lot out of it. They found it a little more personal to themselves, so therefore that learning still became very important and also very impactful.
Kirk Bachmann: Very insightful. I appreciate that response. I’m going to connect it to the job we’re trying to do, obviously, with Escoffier students across the country, this idea of meeting them where they are. However, this idea of proof of concept. Externship is in person, so to your point, they may be taking an Escoffier course in Pennsylvania, but they want to work in Colorado or California or New York. They have the opportunity to do that through an externship and apply the skills they’ve been studying for some time. I’ll keep you posted. It seems like we’re on the right path there.
Pearce Miller: I’ll go back to your prior expert here and a good friend. If I had an opportunity to get an opportunity to get a lesson from Chef Leonard, who’s in New York, and I’m in Pittsburgh, I might not be able to travel to New York, or he’s not coming here because he’s a busy guy. Boy, could I get an awful lot from an online cooking lesson from Chef Leonard? I absolutely could, and it would be very impactful. The benefit to that is, he wouldn’t see how many times I screwed up the dish. That’s a separate issue. I think online is making the world smaller. Our world is shrinking fast.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s so interesting: When Ed and I spoke, we spent most of the time talking about you. And here you and I are spending most of the time talking about Ed, which I know he loves. I know he loves.
To stay on this topic, when this idea of the business of teaching. When developing business models for academic institutions, which you have a lot of experience doing, I’m always a [glass half full] sort of individual. I don’t want to ask you, Pearce, how do institutions get it wrong. I’d rather ask: How do institutions get it right?
Pearce Miller: I think that’s an excellent approach, Kirk, particularly from the culinary aspect of it. I did teach in high school. Obviously, I have health and physical education as a background. That was my initial background in teaching. I would compare it almost to teaching health, which by the way, I didn’t really enjoy too much. It was a little bit of challenge. You’d have students all over the board, particularly in high school.
I think from a business model how we get it right is we provide a lot of opportunities for students. We expose them to a lot of things. That’s constantly evolving. Again, I’ll go back to the online piece. Just what you’re doing right here, with a podcast. Not many schools are doing that. Not too many, not that I know of. Just providing an opportunity like this, to be exposed to somebody. Who knows where that will lead? Maybe somewhere down the road somebody says, “You know what? I’d really like to go to New York and work for Chef Leonard. Wow! That would be an awesome experience.” Or “You know, I don’t want to go work for Chef Leonard because that’s not what I want to do. I want to go do something else.” Which, your podcast, again, you’re bringing in other professionals and other experiences, and other things for them to see.
Where institutions are getting it right is we’re really very student-centered, way more so than any of your Ivy League schools or universities who are putting out a lot of information. It’s about how much money they can spend for school. It’s a prestige thing. It’s a name. Whereas I think particularly in culinary education, we expose students to things that they really need to be successful. They can take this and make a career out of it. Look at all the stuff online with chefs now! The food channels have expanded greatly in a very, very short period of time. That’s not gone away, by the way. That’s still out there.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. I was just noticing that we spent a great amount of our time talking about how to create an incredible experience, a student-centric experience for our students. Super, super critical. It can be applied to the hospitality industry. Some advice that I got from a friend a long time ago was the number one thing you can do in business is like your customers. Like your customers, and you’re halfway there.
I want to flip it a little bit, Pearce. Think about it from the student perspective. Are there some critical elements in a student’s journey that are important characteristics, approaches, mindset, that a student should have in order to position themselves to have the most successful experience that they can? You can speak to that as a student.
Pearce Miller: I think particularly from my experiences in running the Culinary Institute and obviously from my own educational journey: the more you can expose yourself to, the more you can get your hands in, the more questions you can ask, the more things that you can do. It’s not always on a test. I used to tell our students, and I try to reinforce this with the instructors, you can’t test everything that we teach in a classroom. It’s impossible! First off, why would you want to do that? I don’t want to test everything they know. I just want to know, do they have the basics. Do they understand the concepts? “How do they make it better?” is one of the things we always talk about in education.
Sometimes where educators get it wrong, so to speak, is they think we teach critical thinking. You don’t teach critical thinking. What you do teach is how to help students become critical thinkers. How do we enable them to be a critical thinker? If I expose the student to a particular situation, how do they apply it or synthesize it to another given situation that might be completely different, but they have to know the same information?
This was an example I brought up to you earlier when we were talking. When I was going to the schools, I would run into Chef Pauli Milotte from Disney, one of the things he wanted our students to know is if they’re making a chocolate chip cookie recipe and they make it with a chewy center, and they make it so it’s crispy, they have to understand that. They have to be able to apply that knowledge. I can test them all day on the recipe for a chocolate chip cookie, but can they apply it to the situation they need? I think that’s really, really important. We help the students become more exposed, more worldly knowledge, than what we’re actually putting on a test. That’s what’s critical for students.
Students have to realize that a lot of information and the opportunities – even with these podcasts – you’re not quizzing somebody or testing somebody on a podcast. But this information that you’re sending out from this group here, not necessarily from me but from Ed and from some of the other experts you’ve had on that I’ve watched, that might get a student to think, “Ooh, wow! I would really like to do that. I want to get more involved with that.” How can they do that on their own? What can they do? Where can they go? We need to do that as a group. We need to make sure that students understand that there’s more out there than what we are putting between four walls or in an online environment.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that example. I’m going to use a similar example of how we have progressed over the years. I can remember not so long ago – call it a couple of decades ago – when we sat in classrooms and students worked real hard to put their presentation plates together. They would bring it to the chef. That chef would pretty much dictate if there was enough salt, if the product was cooked properly, and so on and so forth. What I’ve seen, particularly at Escoffier both online and on ground, is this idea – I love your quote, “You teach students how to be critical thinkers.” What I see in the classroom today, Pearce, is the student bringing the plate or the chef going to the student and asking the student about the dish. “Taste it and tell me what you’re experiencing. What does it need? What does it lack?” You’ll be able to then articulate to Chef Pauli that you understand what he’s looking for in that cookie. Soft center, crispy outside. However, without the foundation, without the basics, without the ability to cognitively articulate what you’re doing, it won’t happen. I’ve seen a big shift. Of course, our chef instructors have become slimmer, right, because they aren’t tasting as much food. But the students are tasting their food and they’re having incredibly important conversations with their instructors about what’s going on in that plate.
I’m getting chills because that’s what it’s all about, Pearce. That’s what education is all about. That’s all that our friends at Cordon Bleu back in the day also tried. Patrick Martin would come in. He didn’t necessarily want to taste the food, but he wanted to know if we were tasting the food and what we were experiencing through that food. Really great, great conversation. I love that. I love that a lot.
Pearce Miller: I think it’s really important. You just brought it up. The students often know what was wrong with their dish before they even present it.
Kirk Bachmann: Before they even bring it to you!
Pearce Miller: They know what’s wrong.
Kirk Bachmann: Sometimes they’re apologetic!
Pearce Miller: They know.
Kirk Bachmann: Never apologize, but understand. That’s what we said at the beginning of the podcast. Educators, chefs, teachers – they are really nothing more than facilitators of knowledge.
Pearce Miller: That is correct.
Kirk Bachmann: Just create the conversation in those four walls. Then education remains a beautiful thing. If that doesn’t change, we’ve done our job, and I’ll see you on the golf course.
Pearce Miller: I’ll bring my buddy up again. I watched Ed do this many, many times. When a student brought a dish up, the question was, “What could you have done better?” The student would tell them. And so he knew the learning had taken place. There’s no reason to go through and say, “This is a D dish. This is an F or a C-.” Learning occurs from making mistakes, not necessarily doing things right, but understanding why. Again, that’s teaching how to critically think. If they can already analyze and know what they did wrong and fix it.
You know, Kirk, the only problem is I can’t do that on the golf course. I just wish I could.
Kirk Bachmann: Nor can I. Nor can I.
Hey, I would be remiss if I didn’t – you’ve got the hat on. I have to share with everyone. I grew up in Chicago, born and raised, and then moved out to Colorado. For whatever reason, I can remember running around the neighborhood with my buddy, Johnny Ryan, who was obsessed with the Pittsburgh Pens. From that day when I was in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, I have loved the Pittsburgh Penguins. It wasn’t just a coincidence when I met you. The Blackhawks are amazing, right? What a great franchise! But I was a Pittsburgh Penguin fan. When my son, Joseph Henry, was born, who is now 12 – just turned 12 – first gift that arrived came from Dr. Miller, and that was a Pittsburgh Pens rocking chair. I’ll never forget that. So he, too, loves the Pens to this day. It’s not like you’re being subtle. You’ve got the championships right there, five of them. Mario Lemieux was part of the first two, and then of course Sidney the other three. You’ve got the hat. Are you still as passionate about the Pens as always?
Pearce Miller: Yeah. I think I mentioned to you, this is the first year I’m finally going to give up my season tickets. I’ve had them for twenty straight years, and actually before that from a number of years all the way back to 1981 was my first year. I had them straight from 2001 to just recently. Sid the Kid is no longer a kid. Just had his 35 birthday on 8-7-1987. He just turned 35 this year.
Kirk Bachmann: How did that happen, huh? Wow! Wow!
Pearce Miller: A lot of people don’t know that’s where his number came from, is 8-7-1987 was his birthday.
Kirk Bachmann: When he was born. Yeah.
Pearce Miller: If you’re in Pittsburgh, you have to be a sports junkie. It’s the Steelers. The Penguins. The Pirates are falling greatly behind-
Kirk Bachmann: But still a classic franchise. Classic franchise.
Pearce Miller: Are we allowed to share screens here, Kirk? Do you do this?
Kirk Bachmann: I think you can try it. Give it a shot.
Pearce Miller: I’ll see if I can share my screen. I’m not sure it’s going to let me do it. Yeah it will. Can you see this?
Kirk Bachmann: There it is. There it is! It’s exactly what we talked about. Point out the rivers. Point out the rivers there.
Pearce Miller: This is the Monongahela that comes down.
Kirk Bachmann: Monongahela, okay.
Pearce Miller: The Allegheny comes down from up north, and it flows into the Ohio.
Kirk Bachmann: The Ohio. And then the stadium. Yeah.
Pearce Miller: Over here is Heinz Field. You can’t see PNC Park on the other side of that. You can barely see the convention center in Pittsburgh.
Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. And that’s the bridge, right? The yellow bridge that you had-
Pearce Miller: When you come in from the airport, this is the one right here. You come across this one, and this is looking from up on Mount Washington, considered one of the ten best views in the United States.
Kirk Bachmann: What a beautiful city! No one’s ever done that on the podcast! Of course, Dr. Miller pulls up a share screen. I absolutely love. What a beautiful city!
Pearce Miller: I had a few others. I had something else. I did want to share. You can see this was the dissertation. A copy of the picture. I actually just got my signed copy from my chair, Dr. Hippert, and Dr. Gutkind and Dr. Olexa.
Kirk Bachmann: Congratulations, my friend.
Pearce Miller: Dr. McIntyre. He’s the dean of the program.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s precious. That’s really special. I’m so proud of you. That’s great.
Pearce Miller: Anyway, I will stop share there, because you know that’s the important stuff.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s beautiful.
I’m not going to let you get out of here. The name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. You’re in Pittsburgh, so I hope you stay home. In your mind, what is the ultimate dish?
Pearce Miller: Ha, ha, ha! I have to go Pittsburgh-ese, right? I was really seriously thinking about this. What would my ultimate dish be? Here in Pittsburgh, you’re a meat and potatoes guy, of course. Hand me a little Germanic heritage there, Chef Bachmann. You obviously know a little bit about that. The ultimate dish, for me, is going to be family and friends sitting around a grill grilling steaks, having a little seafood. You have to throw in some lobster shrimp, maybe some crab legs. Good, cold beer. It could be Coors, or the local Iron City Beer, but it’s probably going to be a micro-brew of some type. And obviously, great conversation. That would be my ultimate dish.
Kirk Bachmann: And that’s the perfect, perfect dish. I’m not surprised at all. We need to send this to the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, I think. They’d be pretty happy.
Hey buddy, thank you so much for taking some time. As expected, you delivered. Unbelievably insightful, very educational, very passionate, respectful. I love you, man. Keep staying healthy. Keep golfing. We’ll do it again, okay?
Pearce Miller: You too, B-Man. Some time we’ll have to do it again.
Kirk Bachmann: We will. Next time, it’s you, Ed, and myself. We’ll need more than 45 minutes for that one. Alright my friend.
Pearce Miller: That might be the ultimate podcast, Kirk.
Kirk Bachmann: That might. That might.
And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.