By Andrew Cluley
Kieron Hales grew up in an English village of about 300 people, so his background may seem different than students growing up in Ann Arbor, but like many students he didn’t always see the point of studying subjects like math and English. Since Hales is a chef you might think he was right to question the need to learn these things, but he says quite the opposite is true.
Hales is the managing partner of Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in Dexter. Recently students in Pathways to Success’s School to Work program toured the farm as the first training session of the program that’s a partnership with Zingerman’s. A big goal of the School-to-Work program is to make sure students can see the relevance of what they’re learning in the classroom, and Hales definitely serves as an example that classes that may not seem to be directly tied with your life passions prove to be so.
Hales says math is one of the most important skills he uses as a chef. That’s because he must quickly determine the cost of preparing a dish, because it doesn’t matter how wonderful a plate of food tastes if it costs too much in ingredients, prep time, and waste to be sold profitably.
Hales has been out of a formal classroom for years, but learning never stops. “Every single day I learn something new at the farm every two to three hours,” Hales says. He adds that you can add value to a business from any job. “The dish washing station interacts with everything. It’s the most important position, if you look to make it more efficient,” Hales says. He explained that at Cornman Farms a dishwasher saved the business thousands of dollars a year by saving time through weighing silverware rather than hand counting the utensils.
The partnership with Zingerman’s is also designed to give students some of the soft skills that are critical to lifetime success. Here Hales highlights the importance of building positive relationships and making sure you work hard right up until the last day you’re on the job. “I have my current job because of a relationship that started when I was 14 and I worked to maintain it,” Hales says.
Pathways students seemed to quickly grasp the complexities of all that goes into running a successful business. Senior Joi White hopes to one day have her own French Restaurant, but told Hales that he really opened her eyes, “I want to be a business owner and hearing you talk about all of this stuff, it’s like, wow, so much more than I realized.”
Still White is glad to be getting the chance to do this now. “I have heard about Zingermans and know this internship will be a really good learning experience and a chance to build relationships. I’m so happy I choose to do this,” she says.