The Science of Learning

I was drenched in physics today. And chemistry. And a bit of mathematics. All subjects that normally make my head spin, but today it was delicious learning.

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The Zingerman’s culture teaches its staff and its customers the value of empowering and motivating people.

No, I was not reliving the drudgery I experienced with college science classes, instead I baked my way through the physics of bread, learning where to place cuts so the steam can escape. I learned the art of combining the perfect weights of ingredients so the result is a silken ball of dough gliding through my hands ready for fermenting, rising, cutting and the ultimate braid that defines Challah.

Donning the gloves of both baker and chemist, I bathed twisted dough in a solution of lye and water to create one of the best pretzels I have ever tasted.

Today was my first day of Bake!-cation at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. An Ann Arbor icon, the Zingerman’s family of businesses are a model of the entrepreneurial spirit that built this country. I have known co-founder Ari Weinzweig, a handful of the managing partners of Zingerman’s businesses, and a collection of staffers for nearly two decades now.  I worked with ZingTrain managing partner Maggie Bayless editing columns she wrote for one of the magazines I ran for years in my former life as a trade magazine editor – a role I happily traded in this year to raise chickens, work side-by-side with my partner Chef Danny Mellman and relearn how to write what I truly want to write.

So when Danny and I found our search for a baker leading nowhere this year, and I heard myself utter the strange sentence, “I can learn how to bake bread.”  My first thought was to reach out to Ari and figure out how exactly I should learn. And two months later, here I am in Ann Arbor baking Challah and pita and pretzels and having poolish fun.

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So this is day one, of a two-day intensively-fun workshop. I would love to stay here a month and take all the programs Zingerman’s has to offer, from cheesemaking to seminars on how to truly make your training work for your business. They have so much to share here – and while I love to learn and have so much further to go – today I learned that the simple complexity of measuring, mixing, kneading and fermenting dough brings more joy to my day than I could have imagined.

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Providing food made with real ingredients is central to the mission of Harvest on Main. My Bake!-cation illuminated what this truly means to our business and how I can better define it to my staff and customers.

Learning something new is so much more than simply learning. It revitalizes your soul, renews your spirit, and makes you a better person. Even if the new skill you are acquiring is something you will never perfect, use professionally, or share with another person – the experience alone will lend itself to every facet of your life.

At least that’s what learning does for me. The lesson itself is the science that makes life worth living and reminds me what it means to be human – growing and learning reminds me to truly live and not just walk through life.

I will continue my baking lessons tomorrow, and as I lay my head down tonight I have already baked up some new ideas for our menus, classroom, and our own Harvest on Main staff training back home.

In the meantime, I am resting up for Day 2, eager to learn what Zen inspirations and business insights my sourdough starter will reveal.