What are the key pieces of equipment that every kitchen needs to help kids succeed at cooking?
I try to keep it simple, with stuff people already have on hand. I’d recommend a good knife, a good cutting board and something to put under the cutting board so it doesn’t slide around [a damp, flat dishcloth does the trick]. An apron, clean cloths, some wooden spoons and spatulas, mixing bowls and a good pan. I like to show that you don’t need fancy things to make amazing food.
A good knife is important. To learn how to use a knife you can’t have a dull knife. All the boys use paring knives, the ones I like are the Opinel ones. They’re really nice because they can learn their technique with a blade that’s the right size. The older boys can use a larger size, I have some boys who have gotten a 10-inch knife for Christmas!
How does introducing cooking – measuring, following recipes, knife skills – early change kids’ attitude about food and cooking?
If kids have a hand in choosing something, they’re more interested and it becomes more meaningful. If they’ve had a hand in the preparation, they’re more likely to taste what they’ve made. Even my pickiest, pickiest students will be more likely to try something new. And it helps them become more familiar with ingredients so they know what they are looking at at a restaurant, for example.
You recommend in your book, “Demonstrate, don’t do.” What’s the difference, and how do you help kids gain confidence in the kitchen?
If, for example, there’s a recipe with two onions, I would cut them in half so we have four halves. I would cut half an onion to demonstrate, and for little people I would start theirs, the others I’ll say, “You’ve seen what I do, have a go!” Then I go around and observe. Choose recipes where it doesn’t matter so much if it’s not cut perfectly. Let them do that first and gradually let them do more and gradually they’ll have more skills. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Working with the boys has made me relax a lot in my own cooking. It’s just food!
Speaking of onions, do you have any recommendations for chopping onions without crying?
I don’t! I don’t. I tell them, “Run your hands under cold water, dry them on this clean cloth, take a break.” All kids hate chopping onions, they hate it!
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