Fearless & Curious In The Kitchen
Learning is Different for Everyone
by Maria Nerius
The desire to learn is part of being creative, yet, we don’t all learn the same way. For some it’s best to have a teacher to guide, to show hands on, watch our attempts, correct if needed, and then congratulate us on success. For others visual aids are a must while some prefer to read and use illustrations. Then there is me who needs a little of this and a little of that before the light bulb lights and I understand.
One of the best teachers I ever had always says, “It’s not what you can make, it is what you can fix.” At first I just scratched my head in confusion, but in time I understood that if you can fix it, then that you can make it is a given; plus to fix something means you really truly understand the process of making that something work!
Recently at the Cake and Sugar Art Fair in Orlando, FL I was watching Edward Windsor make piping bags out of parchment paper. I wanted to learn how to do this so I watched intently, but I couldn’t figure out what Edward was doing because his hands moved way too fast! I’d guess he could have made those piping bags with a blindfold on and one hand tied behind his back. So I asked him if he wouldn’t mind teaching me. He was gracious and started talking me through it, but my mind was not grasping what his hands were doing. I was embarrassed at how clumsy I was, but also a little frustrated that I couldn’t get the hang of it.
Joanne Prainito, who makes the most beautiful cakes and is the Creative Director at Edible Artists Network, walked up and I joked that I must be losing brain cells faster than a race car as I could not duplicate what Edward was doing. She smiled and said she did it differently and maybe her technique would be easier for me. She started showing me, but now, I was really starting to feel stupid because I still didn’t comprehend how to get that piece of parchment paper into a cone that could be used as a piping bag. I tried to laugh it off as is my habit when feeling less than intelligent when Jens Oprzondek joined our booth table party and what he was about to show me would make all the difference.
I’d like to note at this part of my story that not one of the brilliant people around me thought I was stupid or remarked in any way about my slow learning curve. No one gave up on me and I wasn’t leaving that table until they knew I knew how to make the piping bags. The frustration was within me. I was quite willing to give up, cry “Uncle!”, and continue to buy piping bags. But Jens said he’d learned a different way and that way might make more sense to me. He told me he too hadn’t learned this technique very easily, but his teacher demonstrated the making of a parchment piping bag in a way that clicked for him.
He took my crumpled attempt, smoothed out the parchment paper and along the top of the parchment triangle he wrote an A to the far right top corner, then at the top middle line a B, at the left top corner a C, and finally at the tip/point at the bottom a D. “Fold A to B along the D; Fold the C to B again along the D,” Lens instructed. And bingo, I made a piping bag with a little fold on top to keep it in one piece.
Success! Glorious success! I was grinning ear to ear and was gently reminded not to give up so easily. And even more importantly, to never be embarrassed because it might take one just a little longer than others to master a skill, process, or goal. You can do it. I was lucky enough to be in the company of three highly talented artists, who were experienced teachers and demonstrators; who were not going to let the process of learning get the better of me. Normally, when home alone trying to teach myself, I have a bit more patience when trying new things, yet, when in the company of all those years of experience and all that talent, I found myself intimidated. Not one of them gave up on me and with that confidence, I couldn’t give up either.
Whether you are the teacher or the student, patience is critical. If you have the opportunity to teach a student who is a challenge, take on that challenge! If you are a student who has the opportunity to learn, take a deep breath, relax, and open up your mind. There is always something to teach and to learn!
Maria Nerius worked over 35 years in the art and craft industry as a designer, writer, teacher, on-air talent, and author. She took up baking and sugar arts when she retired and fell in love with it. Fearless & Curious is about her adventures. Contact Maria on Facebook (Maria Given Nerius), Twitter (@MariaNerius) or by e-mail: MNerius@cfl.rr.com