Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Teaching kids to cook

I kind of entered a new phase in my Eight Bites progress. While I still struggle a bit every day with what and how much I eat I am not as obsessed about it as I have been. I am working at the gym four days a week, walking on the treadmill and lifting weights. Exercising the abdominal core and trying to strengthen the legs and back. My shoulder hurts all the time so I have done little work on that, limiting my exercise to the abdomen, back and legs.

But the exercise has been going on for almost a year. What is new is that I am teaching middle school kids how to cook. A local charter school has a restaurant on its site that is no longer functioning as a working restaurant. Now while fully capable with commercial stove, stainless work areas, sinks and refrigeration it is use as an overflow class room for the music program, another home ec cooking class and chorus class. I found out about it, while working for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and their Big Rig cooking project. While I felt that the actual teaching of kids (and adults) could be done more effectively, the philosophy of the program regarding eating better, simpler, and more earth friendly was a good one.

I contacted the principal of the charter school and provided her with information on my background and then with a class plan. She got District permission for me to carry out an initial three week class for 12 kids ranging in age from 12 to 14. The initial class had seven boys and four girls. I got a list of the kids, and any potential food allergies and issues before the class. One girl had peanut allergies, but the rest were fine. I spent about a month getting ready to teach the class, getting ideas in place, locating pots and pans, bowls and getting knives ready. I wanted to make it interesting and fun, but I also wanted to ensure that the kids had the basic understanding that kitchens can be dangerous places, full of hot things, sharp things, and slippery things.

That first class was interesting. The kids were enthusiastic and happy, so I worked hard to keep them that way. They each got a Chef’s knife and a paring knife, a cutting boards and a towel. Then we began. Cutting skills are a significant component of the cooking process. The process goes from gaining comfort in handling the tools, to working with the preparation of ingredients, to reading recipes, to cooking the dish. I decided that the first class would focus on developing cutting skills and reducing the fear of the knives. Slicing, dicing, and chopping were the tasks for the day, but I also wanted to create something they could eat. So each kid had a tomato to slice and dice, an onion, half a bell pepper, a half of a cucumber, some garlic, and some parsley and cilantro. They each made a mixture of tomato, onion, peppers, cucumber, garlic, and cilantro, stirred it up and made a salsa. I provided them some freshly made tortilla chips and they were each able to enjoy their very own salsa. I asked them to set aside some of the chopped tomato, some chopped garlic, chopped basil and parsley to make a topping for crostini. I had made some bruschetta toasts for them and they topped the toasts with the tomato, and garlic, added some Parmigiano Reggiano and had a new taste sensation.

The next class had them preparing the ingredients for pasta with a light tomato sauce, sausage, broccoli rabe and cherry tomatoes. With a lot of the Parmigiano added they really loved this dish. I showed them how to make basil pesto with olive oil, garlic, walnuts, Parmigiano and pecorino cheeses, and lots of basil. They blended it up and made a very nice pesto that we used to top linguini. The first pasta used Orecchiette and that also was new dish for them. The third class was yesterday and I had asked them what they wanted to prepare. The decision was to make chicken piccata and salmon teriyaki. So I split them up into groups making the lemon sauce, pounding the chicken, making the teriyaki sauce, and the cream cheese topping for the lemon tarts. They were all busy and got all the tasks done quickly. Then it was time to move to the stove and heat things up. They floured and sautéed the chicken dipped it in the piccata sauce and set it aside to continue to heat. Then they sautéed the salmon fillets, topped them with the teriyaki sauce, sesame seeds, and chopped green onions. The food was moved out to the dining room and the kids ate their work. Even though some didn’t want to eat the salmon, they at least tried it.  Sapore means to love flavors and that was what I wanted them to understand. They were a pretty adventurous lot. The lemon tarts went down quickly as well as some lemon sorbet I had made earlier. We talked about the experiences that they had and got some feedback. The kids were still enthusiastic and seemed to have fun, and all thanked me and said goodbye. I sat for a few minutes just to center myself and then cleaned up the kitchen, packed the car and went home. The first workshop was over. Apparently the next one is already filled and will start soon.