Annette Voigt

 

Annette is a professional chef. As a career teacher, she teaches aspiring young chefs at the Brillat-Savarin School OSZ Gastgewerbe in Berlin. Additionally she is an IHK examiner for prospective culinary graduates. In her practical work, she has focused for years on the school garden, an expansion of her content to include vegan-vegetarian cuisine.

“My goal is to make young people more aware of all the processes that revolve around food. That fact that “food is political” is very important to me.”

Please introduce yourself briefly. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Annette – Suzanne Voigt. I was born in 1968 and grew up in Kleinmachnow (now Potsdam-Mittelmark). I have a wonderful daughter since 2001.

Since completing my university studies, first in Dresden and later in Berlin (change in May 1990), and my traineeship, I have been working as a career teacher at the “Oberstufenzentrum für Gastgewerbe” since 1998. I mainly teach in theory and in practice students who want to enter the culinary profession in the subject “Technology of Food Preparation”. For several years now I have been the head of the technology department. Special fields of activity and tasks are the community catering, the school garden and the vegetable kitchen as an additional module for qualification.

My free time often has to do with work  – of course without an educational goal. I have a garden, am often and gladly in nature – in forests and mountains, go hiking and constantly check if I find edible plants.

 

As a trained cook, what interests you most in the education for chefs?

Wenn I started it was rather the other way around. After graduating from high school in Kleinmachnow, I did an apprenticeship as a chef in Potsdam – with the only goal of bridging the time to my studies in a meaningful way. It was my parents’ idea. Actually, a maximum 1-year internship in any food processing company would have been sufficient as a prerequisite for my studies. So I already had a place at university before I became a chef. When I became interested in food chemistry and technology in 1987 (because of Chernobyl), I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a career school teacher. It was simply suggested to me by a teacher – and it seemed appropriate and useful. So first the idea of studying food processing was on the agenda – only then education was added. The path that continued, i.e. to the Brillat – Savarin – School, the OSZ Gastgewerbe, was paved perfectly without my intervention. Quite simple and simply – straightforward. And still suitable for me.

Even before 2020, there was a big drop in the number of apprentices in the catering industry. (…) Anyone who still decides to complete a gastronomy apprenticeship under the given conditions does not have an easy time ahead of them. The dropout rates are very high.

What brought you to the school garden in your practical work?

This is becoming a bit of a school garden story now. For me, gardening and “cooking” or eating sit close together. I grew up that way. “Food is an agricultural activity” (Wendell Berry) – thankfully it’s also in our (Die Gemeinschaft) manifesto.

It is a gift when young people in their gastronomic training understand at least a little of the cycle of the products they process – using their hands and all their senses. This includes not only harvesting – but at least also sowing, planting, tending, also the cycle in the soil or on the compost. The school garden itself with a pure bed area of about 210 m² already existed – it was just not cultivated. The beds were completely weedy, soil unfortunately compacted. Because of my own garden, I had plans to start something  for a long time with the school garden. Often I brought (wild) herbs or different varieties of tomatoes, yellow zucchini, etc. from my garden just to open the eyes of my students, to expand their horizons. But it needed an impulse for the reclamation of the school garden. With many hands and motivated heads.

In 2012 I had a great cooking class (there are always great classes like that) and even a student who had studied “organic farming” in Eberswalde. That was the start. I had a perfect multiplier. The students got involved immediately. In March we started – and in June we could already harvest properly. After the summer vacations, the garden often looked like it did at the beginning – very sobering. Other colleagues came with classes, “Mire-poix-beets”, about 30 kinds of tomatoes, we made currant jelly as well as liqueur (super gifts for guests) and more and more new ideas. Meanwhile we are three colleagues who are responsible for the school garden. For a few years we also have a vineyard now.

Responsibility often means spending many hours alone in the school garden. Finding solutions for the long summer vacations. There is (still) no set subject in which time is left for this content. Each teacher arranges it for themselves – according to need and weather and requests on our part – it is great luck when we have enough classes in the garden to help. Through a couple of foundations we have been able to organize money specifically for equipment and plants and fruit trees/shrubs.

We are a government school – so finances work a little differently – it is difficult. We don’t sell our harvest – the cycle should only take place in our school – from soil to plate. From the beginning we had great support of course from the school management and the principal himself with gloves and work shoes. Small steps bring the longed-for success – in our 7+2 teaching kitchen and the refectory we process thyme, sage, tarragon and mint as well as year-round currants (frozen) from the school garden. Last year, the first apples (three old varieties) were in cold storage. These are already fixed sizes. After a soil exchange (during the Corona season) due to heavy metal contamination in the area, 80% of the beds are filled with new (not exactly high quality, rather dead) soil. We restart for the 2022 season with our experience gathered over the years. The motivation is enthusiastic students – and, of course, to bring the harvest respectfully to the plate.

“Everything we take for granted can be new territory for trainees. And that’s exactly where the potential for the business itself can lie. The constant questioning of ingrained processes is perhaps also done by explaining them to new employees, trainees and apprentices. This not only costs time, but also “pays off”.”

You have already accompanied many future chefs on their way. What developments have you observed since then? 

The development of the trainees is, of course, always the same as the development and change in the market – i.e. the places where trainees work. This has been mirrored to me for years. There are always exceptional classes that are carried by just a few students. Curiosity has always played a major role in this – I try to encourage this in all directions. Two examples: With Modernist Cuisine, which was initially only applied in a few companies through molecular cuisine, some techniques were questioned by individual students in theory classes and tried out in practice classes. The snowball effect was there – the rest of the class learned. Exciting for all sides. But especially from the theoretical side it was difficult to understand. Somehow, espuma or “caviar” were no longer anything special. Young people were increasingly interested in new cooking techniques. The “simple” and down-to-earth techniques were laughed at. Also the contents of technology lessons – which always went back to basics. Then came the wave of sustainability/climate justice – a return to regionality and seasonal produce – always a focus of the curriculum for all gastronomes. And again, students interest changed with the menus of the training companies. 

One major change over the years has been respect for other diets. Students who eat a vegan or vegetarian diet can express this more and more often in class – without being laughed at. Also a point, which instructors and coworkers can steer very easily. So I think that as a teacher, all you need is the right way to bring out curiosity – to pick up on trends and integrate them into the existing curriculum. Curiosity lies dormant in everyone. Only a few students who report from their companies – and you reach at least the interested trainees. That is one of the strengths of career schools. Career school as a multiplier. A next focus – also in training – is currently emerging. In view of the past two years, price increases for food, low staffing levels – convenience products are coming more and more into focus. To the extent not exactly in the sense of Die Gemeinschaft – but in most hotels in the city normality. We should not close our eyes to this. And these are also our trainees. Showing these students the basics of food processing is not only a supplementary task of the career school, but in the first place of the training companies themselves. Even before 2020, there was a large decline in the number of apprentices in the catering industry. The reasons for this were discussed not only in the last Symposium. Anyone who still decides to complete a chefs apprenticeship under the given conditions does not have an easy time ahead of them. The dropout rates are very high. Currently (spring 2022), I see many tired faces in the classroom. Work in the company directly after school seems to be becoming the norm. Trainees replace entire employees and have to take on responsibility at an early stage. Additional workshops after regular classes are no longer as easy to fill as they were two years ago. The trainees are exhausted.

“A closely related goal is to gain an appreciation for the products, their diversity and their producers. To understand the entire cycle of food production. To look beyond one’s own plate – or even to look next to the beds – what else is growing there that is edible. Always remain curious and open.”

Where do you see future potential?

I already made the potential clear in the previous question. To stimulate curiosity and a very strong connection to practice. Let them try things out and convey an understanding of the basics. The start for trainees doesn’t always have to be in the small details (cleaning salads, cutting onion brunoise or polishing glasses) – but first in understanding the whole. This can be the philosophy of the company, the experience of a functioning team with encounters at eye level and also an understanding of the value chain of the products – and also sometimes just standing at the pass and watching – perhaps helping to arrange small details. That fills you with pride. And the salads are then touched in a completely different way. Everything that seems obvious to us can be new territory for trainees. And that’s exactly where the potential for the company itself can lie. The constant questioning of ingrained processes may also be done by explaining them to new employees, interns and trainees. This not only costs time, but it also “pays off”.

 

What is particularly important to you in your role as a trainer to communicate to young people?

I am not a trainer. I am a teacher. A career school teacher. And fortunately I’m also a cook. And fortunately, I teach theory AND practice. Career school stands for theoretical training. The practical part is still done by the companies. At the career school, practical instruction therefore means consolidating the basics, showing new techniques and, if possible, not letting anyone fall behind. My goal is to make young people aware of all the processes that revolve around food. The topic of “food is political” plays a very important role for me. Example – The subject of fish in technology lessons should always deal with fishing methods, overfishing and – where do I get good quality fish for my region – in addition to classification, structure, nutritional significance and preparation and cooking. What does high-quality fish mean in this context? Exactly this point should be questioned for each product group. If the students can then show how diverse and honest a menu can be (with or without fish) – a goal has been achieved. Regardless of the region or country in which the future chefs will be working, this is exactly what they should be able to find out on their own. A closely related goal is to gain an appreciation for the products, their diversity and their producers. To understand the entire cycle of food production. To look beyond one’s own plate – or even to look next to the garden beds – what else is growing there that is edible. Always remain curious and open.

“The topic of appreciation should be very important. If the individual sectors know more about each other, know production and work processes – a product becomes transparent not only for each individual, but also for guests and customers – and gains in honesty.”

Why are you member of Die Gemeinschaft?

Die Gemeinschaft – that is, us – does exactly what moves me. What has occupied me for years in my private and working life. I find everything that has to do with food exciting. My focus will continue to be education in this sector.

 

Why do you think we should strengthen the cooperation between the gastronomy – agriculture – food craft sectors in general

As I also touched on in the previous answers – the topic of appreciation should be very important. If the individual sectors know more about each other, knows production and work processes – a product becomes transparent not only for each individual, but also for guests and customers – and gains honesty. Furthermore, production can be targeted and tailored to the customer’s needs. Directly. This also saves resources – in all areas. Strength also means – I have to know what the others are doing. I can look at that (excursions) or learn it (internship) or teach it to each other in workshops (as in the last Symposium). In my opinion, it is precisely these three things that need to be developed.

“Make yourselves strong and attractive to the next generation. Meet new employees and trainees openly and with respect and more appreciation.”

Are there things that have changed for you as a result of working together within Die Gemeinschaft?

Definitely. I have found like-minded people. I stand fully behind the manifesto. The community with the symposium has given me the opportunity of a platform also for students. I have been able to reach – in some cases bring on board – many more young people than in my normal school day. Teaching outside of school as a place of learning is always better. On a personal level, I’ve learned an incredible amount – and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.

 

What do you think are the key issues that need to change in the coming years within the food, hospitality, agriculture sector?

Referring to my sector of education – Make yourselves strong and attractive to the next generation. Meet new employees and trainees openly and with respect and more appreciation. In my opinion, adequate (not just “minimum”) wages also include further education in the form of excursions and workshops. This is what the community can offer and develop. In addition, I could write down a long list of wishes and demands. A few points only as key points:  Constant exchange and contact with each other. Biodiversity also on the plates – then there is also more biodiversity on the fields. Good and honest food that is affordable for all. Shaping the food revolution together.

 

Who do you see is responsible for this and why?

First and foremost, it’s us. We as consumers and producers. And it is precisely our demands that we must pass on to the politicians. In order to hold them accountable. Over and over again.

Photos:
Caroline Prange, Uwe Scotland

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