Learning Life Skills In An After-School Cooking Club

Learning Life Skills In An After-School Cooking Club

Wed 23 Nov 2011

Story by Mardi Michels

As a full-time teacher of French to boys aged 7-12, I am also responsible for an after-school club one day a week. After spending a few years finding something that the boys love to do and that I can actually instruct them on (!) I seem to finally have found my groove with a cooking club, Les Petits Chefs.

In November 2010, I heard Jamie Oliver speak in Toronto, mainly about the Food Revolution and “Pass it On” campaign. Throughout that talk I kept on thinking how irresponsible it would be of me to NOT take part (even in a tiny, drop-in-the-ocean kind of way) in Jamie’s Revolution and a few short weeks later, Les Petits Chefs cooking club was born.

Les Petits Chefs

I mean, I am not the world’s greatest or most knowledgeable cook but I do know my way around a kitchen (or in this case, a science lab/kitchen!). Why not pass on some basic skills to the students I have to offer a club to anyway? Apart from teaching the boys valuable life skills, it’s a great way for me to get to know the boys (and them, me) outside the classroom doing something I truly love and it has absolutely changed my relationship with many of them for the better.

Sometimes, French is not exactly everyone’s favourite subject so I am truly grateful for the opportunity to show the boys another side of Mademoiselle Michels. It’s been the greatest thing – very often, the highlight of my teaching week - and certainly a bonus for the boys’ parents who look forward to tasting our creations each week!

The fact that we don’t have a kitchen to work in doesn’t stop us! Last year when I saw Jamie speak, he said: “The Naked Chef kitchen might have looked lovely on telly but it was rubbish.” I *loved* hearing this! When I look at what we produce in club each week, I am totally amazed, given that most weeks, we use portable single burners in our science lab and pots and pans and utensils from the dollar store. Jamie also says with about $100 of pantry items and a couple of good pots and pans, you can work miracles.

According to Jamie, “10 to 20 minutes is more than enough time to put out a healthy meal” – as we prove weekly. We’ve pretty much worked our way through the Food Revolution book over the past couple of years and the boys have even helped me test recipes for my blog. I figure if ten 9-12 year olds in a science lab can make a dish, anyone can!

Guest Chefs and Life Skills

Last year, I started a guest chef program where chefs and foodies from around Toronto come in to work with the boys each week and it’s been a huge hit – the boys have made pizza and pasta from scratch, Asian dumplings, authentic Mexican salsas, traditional Panamanian empanadas and candies, just to name a few!

This term we’ve taken the Petits Chefs on the road, to visit a gourmet food store to learn about the importance of selecting ingredients and to decorate cupcakes for Halloween.

Through my work with the boys, I see them learning all sorts of life skills (math, ingredient and nutrient knowledge) as well as basic kitchen techniques (knife skills too!), which will definitely serve them well in the future. Parents have been so pleased to see their boys branching out to try new foods (food is always so much more appetizing when you have a hand in preparing it!) and I have been thrilled to watch the boys attack even seemingly complex recipes or techniques with the “can do” attitude only kids have. We can all learn a lesson or two from Les Petits Chefs: you don’t need fancy equipment or ingredients or a lot of time to make a healthy, from scratch meal.

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.


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