Eat Beat

These Kids Are Cookin’!

by Kathy Sena

Maybe it’s the Emeril influence — or the kick 1st graders seem to get out of watching the Iron Chef unveil the “special ingredient of the day” when it’s (ugh) live eel — but today’s junior chefs are eagerly “kicking it up a notch” in cooking classes designed just for them.

Today’s 7- to 12-year-old chefs-in-training listen for the popping sound as they boil fresh cranberries to make homemade cranberry sauce. They tie fragrant spices in cheesecloth bags to make hot-spiced cider. They chop pecans and juggle measuring spoons to whip up a gooey praline pumpkin pie that would bring Emeril to tears.

Holidays rule in these kitchens, with class schedules that follow the calendar. Classes featuring Christmas and Hanukkah foods are popular, of course, along with Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and other occasions.

Cooking Classes for Kids

It’s A Giggle, 1600 Commerce Pkwy., Ste. A, Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054, 856-222-9840. Children’s entertainment center offers a variety of classes, including cooking for children ages 4-8. Next classes start in January 2007. www.itsagiggle.com

JCCs Kaiserman Branch, 45 Haverford Rd., Wynnewood, PA 19096, 610-896-7770, ext. 192. KidsTime, an after-school program for grades 1-5, includes homework help, cooking, swimming, sports and crafts. www.phillyjcc.com

Kids Kucina, 215-518-1066,
302-762-3644. Monthly cooking classes for the young chef at various locations.

Kitchen Capers, Eastgate Square, 1341 Nixon Dr., Moorestown, NJ 08057, 856-778-7705. Kids in the Kitchen children’s
classes are held on Sundays from 1:30 to 3pm. Limited to 15 children. Early reservations are encouraged. Also offered: teen cuisine and parent-child classes. www. kitchenkapers.com/cookingclasses.html#kids

ShopRite Culinary Workshops, offered at ShopRite supermarkets in Delran, Hainesport and Marlton, NJ. Kids' Culinary Classes, 2-hour workshops for ages 5-12 are limited to 12 participants. Contact the courtesy desk at your ShopRite for information. www.shoprite.com/CulinaryWorkShop.aspx

The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, 4207 Walnut St., Phila., PA 19104, 215-222-4200. Each summer, The Restaurant School offers a Junior Chefs Cooking Camp. www.therestaurantschool.com

Young Chefs Academy, Limestone Road, Pike Creek, DE 19711,
302-373-7091. Provides cooking experiences for children ages 3-14. Little chefs (ages 3-5 ) must be accompanied by an adult. Other classes offered for ages 6-10 and 11-14 www.youngchefsacademy.com

Wilde Thyme Cafe and Cooking School, 1149 Lancaster Ave., Rosemont Sq., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, 610-581-7700. Parent and child pairs are encouraged to participate in Teaching Traditions, monthly cooking classes that highlight traditions surrounding the nearest holiday. Ages 5 and up. Advance registration required. www.wildethyme.com

Safety First
The kitchen can be a dangerous place. So safe knife handling, respect for huge pots of boiling water and attention to proper kitchen hygiene are a top priority, says kids’ cooking instructor Michelle Moore. Her instruction, “If you lick your fingers or put your finger up your nose, go wash your hands again,” brings laughs from the kids — and creates a new line at the sink.

Learning how professional chefs go about their tasks makes an impression on students, says Moore. Within the first 10 minutes, her students know the meaning of a well-known phrase in restaurant kitchens: “Hot! Behind!” Translation: “Danger! I’m coming up behind you and I’m carrying a hot pan!”

“They’re learning life skills,” says Moore, who reminds kids to walk with knives held close to the body and pointed down and to lift pot lids away from them so as not to send hot steam into their faces.

Cooking can give kids’ math and reading skills a good workout too. Moore breaks the students into small groups, with one child in charge of reading the recipe and others tasked with measuring spices, flour, etc. There’s much chatter about half cups, quarter cups, teaspoons and tablespoons — along with the inevitable mix-up here and there. But even the occasional kitchen mishap is a good opportunity. “We learn from our mistakes,” Moore says. “We talk about them.”

Outgrowing the ‘Yuckies’
Mom Denise Crandall says taking kids’ cooking classes has been a great experience for her grade-school-aged boys. But she confesses she can’t wait to exact just a bit of motherly revenge the first time her kids cook the family dinner. “I’m going to say ‘Ewwww, I don’t like this. This tastes yucky. The salad and the beans are touching!’” she laughs.

Getting over the “yuckies” is all part of the process when kids find that food tastes better — and seems a bit less mysterious — when they make it themselves. One of the benefits of kids learning to cook is that they become willing to try foods they’d never touch at home.

“I’m not sure about pecans,” says one 8-year-old as he carefully chops the nuts at a “Turkey Day!” cooking class. “But I know whatever I make here is gonna be good.”

Kathy Sena is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to MetroKids.