When 6-year-old Dorie signed up to take a “Cooking From the Garden” class at the Young Chefs Academy in Waco, Texas, her mom and teachers were skeptical to say the least.
“The girl had never eaten a vegetable in her life,” recalls Julie Burleson, who founded the school with partner Suzy Nettles in 2002. After harvesting vegetables from the garden, the children made minestrone soup. And while Dorie was doubtful at first, she eventually tried it—three bowls’ worth.
“When children cook, they feel a great sense of accomplishment,” Burleson says. “They want to say, ‘Hey mom, look what I can do!’ Food becomes a tool for self-confidence rather than a source of fear.”
While most kids used to rely on either a cookbook or parent for instruction in cooking, today they can attend a class designed with their needs in mind. Often run by culinary school graduates or skilled aficionados, these classes teach youngsters patience, determination and a willingness to be challenged and try new things—valuable lessons they’ll retain for life.
Cooking is cool
Many children have begun to see food in a new, more positive light, thanks in part to the rise in popularity of celebrity chefs and food-related television.
“I know kids who watch the Food Network instead of cartoons,” says Lynn Elliott, founder and instructor at the Way-Cool Cooking School in Eden Prairie, Minn. For Elliott, teaching children the basics of healthy cooking is the main priority.
“Child obesity is a huge issue in America right now,” she says. “As a teacher, I feel that it’s my duty to teach kids how to eat right.”
Healthy, however, does not equate to boring; at Way-Cool’s summer Cooking Camp, kids can choose from an array of unique classes, such as “Food Network Fun,” which features recipes from the Food Network’s celebrity chefs. The camp also offers classes based on characters or scenes in children’s books and movies in which campers make Auntie M&M’s Cookies from The Wizard of Oz, White Rabbit Tea Sandwiches from Alice in Wonderland and Quidditch Players Pie from the Harry Potter series.
At the Young Chefs Academy, which now has more than 160 franchises across the country, Burleson uses food to teach students about different cultures and ethnic traditions. “By educating the kids about Jewish cuisine, Christmas in Italy, or Indian spices, for example, we can help bridge that gap,” she says.
And this summer, many Young Chefs Academy franchises offered special Ratatouille-themed parties, based on the kids’ movie released this summer and featuring a rat named Remy who dreams of becoming a great French chef.
Children who attend cooking classes at Kitchen Kapers in Moorestown, N.J., not only learn how to prepare scrumptious dishes such as spinach quiche, funnel cake and Moroccan meatballs, they’re also taught how to work well with others. In Lisa Prell’s classes, students range in age from 6 to 12 and boast various levels of ability and experience—including some with motor skill difficulties.
“It’s magical to see the kids working together as a team, regardless of their age, ability or appearance. They begin to see themselves as equal and help each other out,” Prell says.
And while kitchen safety always is a priority, Prell doesn’t feel the need to prevent her students from using real knives.
“Kids want the satisfaction of doing things the real way. Cooking is an art form that encompasses all of the senses,” she says. “If a child can smell, taste and touch, they’re ready to jump in and tackle anything.”
Try making the cooking-school-tested recipes beginning on page 8. They’re perfect for after-school activities with your kids, and may be the jump-start your little Emerils or Paula Deens need to get them on the road to culinary greatness.
High Cotton Cooking School
Contact: Doug Hosford
Phone: (601) 304-9706
Email: [email protected]