Teenagers with knives. Excited youngsters jumping around flames. Heavy pans and boiling pots. What could possibly go wrong?It’s a dream come true for some cooking instructors. Look, someone has to teach the kids to cook. And young cooks may turn into healthier eaters as adults.Luckily, there are starting to be a lot more options in the Charlotte area for the budding kid cooks.Nikki Moore has a teaching and chef-demonstration business called Food Love. She often teaches private lessons for kids. This summer, she led several week-long food camps at the kitchenware store Cooking Uptown.The demand for kids’ classes is way up, she says.“I probably would teach more,” she says. “But for the time it takes and the attention it needs, making sure the kids are safe, it’s a lot more involved than an adult class. It’s a whole different ballgame.”Moore gets a lot of requests for lessons from the parents of food-savvy 8- and 9-year-olds. After age 10, kids get focused on other things. But younger kids are still eager to get in the kitchen. “It has a lot to do with the Food Network,” she says. A lot of children enjoy watching cooking shows. “But cooking has become a lot more popular. I find a lot of times, the parents are also into cooking and they’ve found their kids are interested.”Sure, parents need to get in the kitchen with their kids. But sometimes it helps to let a teacher lay the groundwork first. And there is an advantage to having kids work with an outsider who is free of the parent/child power struggle.After all, chefs, in their spiffy white jackets, are sort of the new superheroes.“Finally, the respect I deserve!” Moore jokes. “I have the magical chef’s coat. You put it on and suddenly, it’s ‘the CHEF is here.’”Susanne Dillingham, who does classes and demonstrations under the name The Tiny Chef, specializes in working with teenagers. She teaches regularly with several groups, from a Montesorri school to to a Mecklenburg Parks & Recreation program for at-risk teens. “I kind of prefer working with (teens),” she says. “When I teach adults, they have their own ways to do things and perhaps they aren’t as open, not always as creative as the kids. With the kids, there’s no bad habits yet – at least in the kitchen.”Of course, with both younger kids and teens, safety has to come first: Hand-washing and knife skills take first priority.“That first day, I scare them to death about fire and cutting their fingers off,” Dillingham says. “And they listen. We’ve had a couple of cuts, but nothing bad.”At Johnson & Wales University, the popular Chefs Choice classes for the public now include summer cooking camps, says Patti Del Bello, the director of culinary operations at the Charlotte campus. This year, they’re added a new one, Garden to Table, that included working in a garden in the morning and cooking the harvest in the afternoon.“The young classes fill up the quickest,” she says. “There’s really a big demand for the young kids. They’re very enthusiastic at that age, and they’re very impressionable. They come with a fresh, clean palate – they’re like little sponges.”
Tips from the experts
So what can the teachers teach you about teaching your kids?1. Have a good time. “Basically, you have to make it fun,” says Del Bello. “It can’t be just putting a recipe in front of them.” Start with something simple that they can complete successfully. “They like chopping, they like assembling, they even like the cleaning part. When they’re done, you can see the pride and satisfaction.”The chefs emphasize using cooking to get kids to try new things. “I say, ‘You have to always be tasting and you have to know if you like it or it you don’t, so you have to try it,’” says Moore.2. Don’t underestimate your kids. Moore is often surprised by how sophisticated kids have become about food. Between Food Network and eating out with their parents, they know a lot of foods their parents probably didn’t encounter until they were much older.“Growing up, I ate what my mom gave me,” she says. “Now, there are so many more options. They like sushi. They know roasted asparagus and creme brulee. They like things you wouldn’t think an 8-year-old would gravitate toward.”3. Have trust – and patience. Even when it’s a little scary to see your precious one around things that are sharp or hot, you have to be willing to step back, says Dillingham. When parents are involved in her classes, she says, they often aren’t as willing to let the kids do things themselves. Her best advice?“Be patient! Every parent I meet is like, ‘You’re so patient with my child.’ I don’t hover over them. I’ve already taught them how to hold the knife. You need to let them be independent in the kitchen. Tell them how to hold it, but don’t be anticipating that they’re going to mess up.”Dillingham says it’s also important to give teenagers a little room, even if they make mistakes. If you correct too much, it frustrates them.“The teenager’s thinking, ‘Well, geez, if they’re going to be like that about everything, what’s the point?’”4. The sky’s the limit. Finally, you never know just how far a few cooking lessons may go. Teaching a kid to cook may not just create a future healthful eater. You could be creating a future chef. Dillingham says she never misses a chance to pass on that message: “You’ll always have a job, and you can travel the world.”
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For Cooking Uptown’s future schedules, go to www.cookinguptown.com.
The Tiny Chef: Susanne Dillingham teaches cooking and wine classes and parties for adults and young people. Details: www.thetinychef.biz.
Food Love: Nikki Moore offers hands-on lessons for adults and children. Details: www.n2foodlove.com.
Johnson & Wales: Chefs Choice offers a variety of classes. Details: www.jwu.edu/chefschoice/clt.
Chicken Satay From Nikki Moore and the Cooking Uptown Kids’ Cooking Camp.
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk2 tablespoons fish sauce1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, minced2 garlic cloves, minced1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric1/4 teaspoon salt1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts 15 wooden skewers, soaked in water at least 30 minutesVegetable oil, for brushing grillPeanut Dipping Sauce (see recipe)
Whisk together the coconut milk, fish sauce, minced lemongrass, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Thinly slice the chicken into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Add the slices to the marinade and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Thread each piece of chicken on a separate skewer. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Brush the grill pan with a little vegetable oil. Working in batches, place the skewers on the grill and cook about 1 minute on each side. Serve immediately with the peanut dipping sauce.
Serves 4 as a snack or appetizer.
Peanut Dipping SauceFrom Nikki Moore.
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice2 tablespoons soy sauce2 tablespoons brown sugar
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. If too thick, add a little more chicken stock to thin the sauce.
Makes about 1 cup of sauce.
Vegetable FrittersFrom Nikki Moore and Cooking Uptown.
1 large yellow squash, grated1 large zucchini, grated1 large carrot, peeled and grated2 large eggs, lightly beaten3/4 cup all-purpose flour3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper3/4 teaspoon saltVegetable oil, for pan-frying
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the vegetable oil. Stir together until well combined.
In a large, high-sided skillet, add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Carefully drop tablespoon-size spoonfuls of the fritter batter into the hot oil. Be careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the fritters for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove the fritters using a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to drain. Repeat until all of the batter has been used. Keep fritters warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve. Serve the fritters on their own or with a favorite dipping sauceFritters can also be baked in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. However, fritters that are baked instead of fried will not be as crispy.Makes about 1 1/2 dozen fritters.
World’s Largest Chocolate Chip CookiesFrom Nikki Moore and Cooking Uptown.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour1 teaspoon baking soda1/4 teaspoon salt1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled3/4 cup packed light brown sugar3/4 cup granulated sugar2 large eggs1 large egg yolk1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract1 (12-ounce) bag of chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.Beat the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract until just combined. Reduce the speed of the electric mixer to low and slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix just until combined, then add the chocolate chips.Use a 1/4 measuring cup to scoop the dough. Drop the dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure they are spaced about 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies about 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave on the baking sheet about 10 minutes. Serve warm or allow the cookies to cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.Makes about 15 giant cookies.