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Experiential learning, creating communities + ramen

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Experiential learning, creating communities + ramen

Simon Boyle

Many of my experiences recently have shown me how mainstream education needs an overhaul. Using experiential learning and developing education around communities rather than classrooms, we should be inspiring people in multiple ways.

Jobs that become passions

I had a cracking day out with our apprentices, four trainees from The Hotel School and the new Head Chef at Brigade recently. We went on a culinary journey, setting off from Brigade early one morning to go to Rugby. We went to Rugby Farmers Mart where they auction livestock. We were there with British Premium Meats – our butchers at Brigade – to spend the morning learning about the process and criteria for buying animals. It was fascinating.

  - Micro lettuce at Westlands

- Micro lettuce at Westlands

From there we went to Westlands near Evesham, which specialises in micro leaves. It’s a niche area and these guys are leaders in what they do. They know all about different cresses and various herbs and nettles. We didn’t just learn about the flavours of their different leaves, but also about the whole growing process – including various technologies and hydroponics – to produce these amazing leaves en masse. It’s incredible and really makes you value what you put on a plate. It also sparked a debate among us about the difference between working on a community farm – like our apprentice Mike did a few weeks ago – and technology-driven processes. You don’t have the opportunity to think about and discuss these things in the day-to-day world of working in a kitchen.

Then we went to visit Robert Welch, a company making beautiful and uniquely designed cutlery, kitchenware and tableware. It’s a British brand and family business – we met the owner Alice Welch – and we learned about the company’s background and how they work at the cutting edge today, using 3D printer technology and working with manufacturers to bring ideas to life. Our visit was even featured in the Cotswold Journal!

  - Us with Alice Welch at Robert Welch

- Us with Alice Welch at Robert Welch

Our final stop for the day was at The Lygon Arms Hotel in Broadway in the Cotswolds. It’s a stunning old hotel dating back to the 1300s and is one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds. They gave us an incredible tour to help us understand what they’re all about and how they balance modern amenities while keeping a traditional spirit. The General Manager, Jason Adams, treated us all to a beautiful dinner before we returned to London, which was really generous of him.

I think days of experiential learning like this are so important. We learned about everything from the land to the plate – something most chefs don’t get to do. For the apprentices, it’s days like these that can push their interest from having a job, to having a job they’re interested in and passionate about. It can be a real lightbulb moment. It was good timing too, as Brigade is closing for the summer and is being slightly reconceptualised. It showed the apprentices that as Brigade evolves, they can have a role in that too. It’s not just what we put on a plate, it’s choosing the plate too, and everything in between.

Other ways of learning

Whenever I visit schools, I often wonder if putting 35 children in a stuffy classroom is really the best approach to learning. Many schools have at least some temporary buildings, which aren’t very inspiring. Some children don’t like to put their hand up in class because people learn in different ways. There are many things children should be learning that can’t be taught in a lesson in a classroom too. I think the education system needs a wake-up call.

Last week, my girlfriend’s son finished school. After just one week off, he’ll be starting an apprenticeship in a logistics company. Although school hasn’t been his passion, he wants to learn on the job and I am so proud of the way that he sought out the best opportunity to take his life forward. He’s combining education, real time work experience and contributing to society in a meaningful way.

I also joined The Conduit this week, which is a private members club for people who want to create social impact. It’s more of a community than a club, for people whether they’re social impact investors or running a charity. Creating communities like these are much more inspiring ways of learning and sharing knowledge, and I think the idea of community is as valuable to children as it is to adults. It’s also fantastic that The Conduit will be donating 10% of their revenue to Beyond Food, and they’ll be taking on five of our apprentice graduates in their kitchen too.

Project ‘Found’

I have decided to further my own continuous learning, so each week from now on, I aim to look into new dishes and cook something I don’t know much about yet. I’ll be gaining my inspiration from social media, television shows, eating experiences and discussions with foodies.

This week it’s ramen. I didn’t know much about ramen before, but I’ve been eagerly learning from Netflix shows such as Chef’s Table and The Mind of a Chef – from chefs including David Chang (Momofuku Noodle Bar) and Ivan Orkin (Ivan Ramen). It’s fascinating to see these guys build on flavour and really make this relatively simple offering into the most incredible and delicious dish. Ramen is actually full of complexity, rooted in layer-upon-layer of fascinating combinations of ingredients.

I think the ideas of experiential learning, getting to know the industry you work in from all angles and creating communities of knowledge-sharing can all be more important than the classroom. We need to take more notice of the fact that learning comes in all shapes and sizes. I don’t know how else we can inspire future generations to feel passionate about their work and lives if we don’t do more to help people learn in different ways.

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To celebrate learning new things in ways that most inspire you, here’s my Japanese Ramen recipe.


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