Cooking with kids, the French way

by OPINEL BLOG SERIES September 24, 2018

Cooking with kids, the French way

Mardi Michels teaches French at a boys’ school in Toronto, where she and a squad of 7-12 year old petit chefs transform a science lab into a teaching kitchen twice a week. In her new cookbook, In the French Kitchen with Kids,Mardi shares what she’s learned about cooking real French food with the boys, and offers tips and essential recipes for getting your kids cooking at home.

“When I first started teaching cooking, I used recipes I thought would be simple to make,” Mardi writes in the introduction to her book. “I realized the boys were whipping through the recipes and that they were too easy. And the boys were getting bored.” To remedy that, In the French Kitchen with Kids breaks down recipes for authentic French classics like Croque-Monsieur, Macarons and Ratatouille to help kids – and the adults who cook with them – learn lifetime cooking skills using everyday staples and real equipment without oversimplifying.

Looking for tools to help your own little cooks get to work in the kitchen? At Opinel, we believe children deserve tools, not toys, to empower them to develop a lifelong love of cooking. Our Le Petit Chef knife [link to product page] is the first educational chef’s knife designed specifically for children.  

We had a chat with Mardi to learn more about her philosophy of cooking with kids and how she suggests setting them up for success in the kitchen.

What do you want kids to learn when you teach them how to cook?

A lot of the focus for the kids is making and eating the food. Like in the classroom, it’s really about the journey, not the end result. They learn listening comprehension, reading comprehension, following directions, there’s teamwork, there’s collaborating.

And it doesn’t always work out! Yesterday, when we were making gougeres, some of the boys put all the eggs in at the same time, when they’re meant to be put in one by one. I said, “Ok, what will we do about it? We can’t take them out because they’re already partway mixed in.” And they said “Well, we’ll just keep mixing!” And they turned out fine.

Your book is about kids in the kitchen, but the recipes are not simplified. Tell us about your approach to kids’ cooking.

I choose recipes based on things they would eat, not based so much on difficulty. With these recipes, they’re making real food. Kids are really capable. They haven’t learned “this is difficult to make.” An adult would think, “I’ve heard choux pastry is really hard, I wouldn’t attempt it.” Adults say this book explains it really well, so parents can feel confident cooking with their kids, as well.

 

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!

Follow Mardi’s many adventures - and buy the book! - at her blogeat. live. travel. write.

Check out our essential paring knives and box sets, perfect for small hands and delicate kitchen tasks, as well as our groundbreaking Le Petit Chef series. [Product links.]

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!

Follow Mardi’s many adventures - and buy the book! - at her blogeat. live. travel. write.

Check out our essential paring knives and box sets, perfect for small hands and delicate kitchen tasks, as well as our groundbreaking Le Petit Chef series.

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