Cooking Basics – Learning Cooking Skills And So Much MoreThu 20 Feb 2014
Story by Mardi Michels
Last term I taught 12 weeks of cooking club to 12 boys aged 7 – 8. Once a week after school, we’d gather in our science lab for an hour to cook together, my mission being to show the boys how much they are capable of, how healthy doesn’t need to mean boring and how easy it is to make a from-scratch meal that tastes great in around an hour.
At the end of the term, I chatted with the colleague who helps me (if you’ve ever cooked with more than one child, you’ll understand how having another adult present is key!) about what the boys had learned. We agreed that their knife skills had most definitely improved (they do a pretty mean fine dice!), that most of them were starting to understand the importance of a clean workstation and well-organised mise en place, that their attitude towards cooking had really changed over the course of the term with many of them realising that it’s a task to be taken seriously even when it’s fun. The boys had all learned a few new ingredient names, many of them had tasted foods they hadn’t tried before and a lot of them were working with techniques they might never have considered before (“We’re making pizza dough – from scratch?”) and that many adults might not even tackle.
But beyond all the food-related learning that’s taken place in that science lab, we’ve had the time to get to know each other and that’s just as important as the learning. Any teacher will understand the importance of getting to know one’s students in contexts outside the classroom. Whether it be through sports coaching or some other type of extra-curricular club or activity, interacting with students doing something you love to do is a wonderful way to strengthen in-class relationships which can only be a good thing for both students and teacher.
I’ve been teaching French as a second language for the past nine years to boys aged 7-12 – I teach the boys for four yeas in a row and French is not exactly what you’d call everyone’s favourite subject so for me, developing that “outside” relationship is even more key.
For the past four years I’ve taught after-school cooking classes to my older students – it’s something I love to do which helps the boys get to know me as a person too! From humble beginnings where we weren’t sure if the club would fly, Les Petits Chefs has become so popular that I had to start a second weekly session – this time opening it up to the youngest students in the school (aged 7-8). It’s been a great way to show the boys I’m a real person behind that “seulement en français” persona that is my French teacher job and a wonderful way to learn more about the boys than our “French only” rule allows me in the classroom.
But what to cook with students that young, especially when you only have one hour from the time they arrive in the room to the time they are picked up and are working with fairly basic equipment (mostly cooking dishes on single hotplates, working in a science lab)? As I’ve written before, I don’t believe in working strictly from kids’ cookbooks when cooking with kids - those recipes can often be too easy which, in the kitchen with kids, can translate to boredom and boredom means more time to get into mischief ;) I much prefer to use well-written general recipes which teach basic skills that, once mastered, allow kids the freedom to create their own interpretations. Enter Jamie’s Home Cooking Skills, Jamie’s Meals in Minutes, The Food Revolution Cookbook and, recently, Save with Jamie. And thus, Cooking Basics Club was born.
At the beginning of the term it was interesting hearing the boys’ expectations of cooking club. On more than one occasion (sometimes more than once in a session!) I’d be asked: “When are we making cookies/ decorating cupcakes?” It seems many kids equate cookies and cupcakes to “cooking” and while it’s certainly something I want them to learn eventually, I also want them to realise that they are capable of so much more. I’ve found that if you raise the bar high and expect a lot, kids will generally rise to the challenge, as often, they have no concept of what is supposed to be “difficult”. That’s why Jamie’s recipes are ideal. Real food. Made easy.
I’ve loved working with Jamie’s recipes with this younger group of students because so many of them are well-loved dishes that many people (especially kids) wouldn’t think to make at home, yet they are so easy (and much healthier than store-bought or restaurant versions)! Together we’ve navigated the ever-popular mac n’ cheese (with - sssh! – cauliflower) - which the boys (and their mums!) still talk about - pizzas made in a frying pan, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken chow mein, stir fried rice, garlicky chicken fingers and oven-baked potato wedges, sausage rolls, soups, frittatas and desserts like bread and butter pudding, fruit crisp or banana tarte tatin. Over the 12 weeks of Term 1, the boys in this club have covered a large variety of recipes and, along the way, learned a lot of skills too!
Cooking Basics is such a success on so many levels – it allows me to teach some valuable kitchen (and life!) skills, it gives me a chance to get to know my students on a non-academic level and it helps them get to know me a little better. But more than this, it proves that with a great recipe and a little guidance and encouragement, kids can cook. Kids can cook real food that tastes great. Vive la (food) revolution!
About the author: Mardi Michels is a full-time teacher of French at an independent boys’ school in Toronto. She blogs at eat. live. travel. write. and has been a Food Revolution Ambassador for Toronto for the past 2 years.
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