Many decades and several generations ago, the Easy Bake Oven – introduced by Kenner Products in 1963 – was the booming gateway to magically transforming raw ingredients into something edible. Then came star chefs and the food networkand today children would scoff at such child’s play.
“We always ask the kids who come to class with us if they watch cooking shows,” she says Lisa AndreassenOwner of Cottage Cooking Asheville with her husband, John Godts. “Many do, and by far the most popular is The Great British Baking Show. You have a very refined taste!”
Discerning taste is one thing; developing skills to participate in family meal planning is another. Several Asheville cooking instructors who offer cooking classes and camps for kids, as well as local chefs who spend time with their own children in the kitchen, say childhood is a great time to lay a strong foundation in culinary literacy.
Start from scratch
Young children have an innate desire to emulate their parents, says the chef Ofri Hirsch, owner of Asheville Mountain Kitchen. “When your kids are little, they want to do what you do,” she says. “People are spending a lot of time in the kitchen this year and their kids want to be there. When people ask about a kids class, it’s usually baking, so people often start at home.”
Baking is the perfect place for kids to start cultivating kitchen skills, says the chef BrianRoss. As the owner of The Asheville Kitchen, which offers adult classes, summer cooking camps and private workshops for children, Ross spent several years working in the kitchen of a two-Michelin-starred chef. “The old-school training method, whatever area you wanted to end up in, started you in the pastry shop,” he says.
“[Learning pastry] taught you to respect measurement and be accurate,” continues Ross. “The first thing a lot of kids want to make is chocolate chip cookies. The recipe is on the bag, everyone loves it and it requires simple techniques like whipping butter and sugar.”
Mother and Cúrate cook Katie Button agrees that teaching kids to cook things they already love to eat is a good place to start. “Like most kids, my daughter is a pasta freak,” she says of the 6-year-old Giselaolder sister of 2 year old Lalo. “It was fun teaching her how to salt water and add oil. She enjoys stirring things like cream of wheat while it simmers on the stovetop and seasoning vegetables on a sheet pan. Even Lalo can pick basil leaves from the stalk. When kids help prepare a meal, they are more likely to try new things.”
deer, his son, Jonathan, is 8, suggests starting with the definition of jobs, bearing in mind that children like tactile experiences. “One of the first jobs I gave Jonathan was kneading dough,” she says. “Then we rolled it out and he put toppings on it. Give little kids little projects and go slow.”
Instead of starting with knives, vegetable peelers are easy to use and give satisfying results. And before you put a knife in a child’s hand, start with safety tips. “Start with a small knife that fits comfortably in a child’s hands and teach them how to hold and use it so their fingers are out of the way,” Hirsch advises.
Ross suggests that adults who are a bit rusty themselves when it comes to knife skills should hone safety strategies through online tutorials.
keep it simple
Another part of the basic skills section of cooking lessons for kids is the preparation, which involves reading recipes in full before beginning and having all the ingredients and utensils ready. “We talk about mise en place in my classes,” says Ross. “I could say, ‘Get your stuff ready,’ but using the right terminology is part of learning to cook.”
Likewise hygiene – such as hand washing – and cleanliness. “Kids make a mess,” admits Godts, who has taken students into cottage cooking with their parents or grandparents from as young as three years old, although the age range of 8 to 14 is more typical. “Accept that and be patient, but encourage them to develop good habits. That’s when you teach them how and why to clean on the go.”
Timing is another factor to consider when planning cooking adventures with kids. “Do it when you have some relaxing time,” says Hirsch. “Not at mealtime when everyone is hungry.”
Relatively easy and kid-friendly dishes to start with include meatballs, sheet dishes, stuffed baked potatoes and baked pasta, the chefs say. Or they suggest expanding your culinary horizons with enchiladas, burritos, sushi, Spanish croquetas and Indian pakoras.
Weekends are made for breakfast, and kids are particularly attuned to this repertoire—French toast, pancakes, and avocado toast are fun. However, eggs aren’t quite as simple as the self-contained protein package seems. “I’m doing a two-hour adult class just about eggs and how they behave under different techniques and heat,” says Ross. “The second day of the cooking school is about boiling eggs. It’s a fundamental thing.”
A solid foundation, these pros believe, inspires confidence in the kitchen. And confidence, combined with children’s natural curiosity, can drive them to try new things. Ross says his now 17-year-old son started baking a few years ago, and just before the outbreak of COVID-19 he started exploring vegetarian and vegan diets.
“Being at home gave him more time in the kitchen. I’ve helped him modify recipes, but he cooks his own stuff,” he says.
Deer may have an elevation food network Star in her home kitchen. “My son can cook anything,” she says proudly. “I don’t let him do this unsupervised, but he’s so confident that he’s now making YouTube cooking videos. And I improved my skills as a filmmaker. We both enjoy it.”