18 years ago I went to university in Adelaide, South Australia, to party a lot and learn very little, thus my grades were very average, but the profits were nonetheless tremendous. I got to meet some of the most inspiring people there, people who taught me everything that I would need for my later career: my classmates and – on some rare occasion – my teachers. The most remarkable of all, was Dr. Peter Schumacher, who always approached us with a kind of respect as if he’s giving us credit for future achievements. I never really saw him teach as such, but collaborate with us at eye-height. I think he realised that teaching does not mean to tell your students ‘how to do it’, but to challenge the student’s own creative talent and create something, the teacher himself would not be capable of.
Despite my many attempts to boycott my university’s curriculum, I received a degree in industrial design but ended up a cook – cooking ketchup with my Austrian friend Mario. We started this by collecting many different ketchup recipes from around the world, merging the best ones into a single recipe and cooking that recipe about 30 times over. Soon after we had four more ‘brothers’ with whom we went to Italy to look for the most pristine ingredients for our ketchup. We cooked together in Tuscany and filled more than 1000 bottles to present in our pop-up shop in Brick Lane, London. More than 2000 ‘experts’ visited our shop and gave us their thumbs up in a double blind tasting against two other leading brands: the majority voted Curtice Brothers as their favourite.
One of those experts was Peter, who – 18 years after I graduated – walked into our store by pure coincidence. I still can’t believe that in a city of more than 8 million people, I would meet my favourite teacher – at a time and location where I wasn’t able to hide the fact that I had failed to put into action what he had taught me. Or did I?
Although I had not become a ‘proper’ designer, never had worked on any prestigious project or created a remarkable product, he made me blush with what I hope was meant as a compliment: he said that back at university “I didn’t need to be taught”. I avoided asking him to clarify whether he referred to talent or obstinacy. Instead I realised that these two qualities are, in some instances at least, interchangeable – would we otherwise have started cooking ketchup?