Summer Cooking Camps

Well, I am back again and excited to share some of my stories about cooking with kids. I spent two full weeks in the kitchen of Sur la Table stirring up some fun with kiddos from grades 1st through 5th. The first week, we all got our kitchen passports stamped with a culinary trip around the world. The second week was filled with the heavenly aromas of baked treats, both sweet and savory. After observing my class, my boss crowned me “The Kid Whisperer”. While I was flattered and humbled by the compliment, it lead me to ponder how I could share some tips and activities with the “grown-ups” who want to learn more about having fun in the kitchen with the little chefs in their lives.

I have one RULE in any kitchen, “Have fun with cooking!” Then I have three ways to ensure that everyone follows Rule Number One. They all start with the same word, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We will…respect the food, respect the kitchen and respect each other.  The kids learned the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you wish to be treated”, to loosely define what respect means.  Then I had the students raise hands to give the class examples of how we can accomplish our goals. “Always use our walking feet”, said one girl. “No using knifes like swords”, offered up one young man.  “Kinds words, a gentle touch, a friendly voice and a smile help us all have fun”, a bow-headed girl sang. Since we are in the South, I taught them that manners never go out of style. So, they learned to liberally use “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” when speaking to adults.  In addition  “Please” and “Thank You” is always the perfect seasoning for any conversation.

Next, we tossed our picky taste buds out of the kitchen and took a huge gulp of imaginary adventurous eating. My favorite part of class is the “No thank you bite”.  This means we all take a bite that is at least the size of our thumbnail without spitting it out.  Then, if we don’t like it, we respect the food by saying, “No thank you” or “I am not a fan of that flavor” or “That was not my favorite.” Most of the time the kids discovered a new favorite flavor or recipe. By the third day of the five-day camp all of my students could recite, in unison, the only rule. I waved my arms high in the air like a symphony conductor and count 1, 2, 3.  Then they exuberantly shouted, “Have FUN with cooking”.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when you give children a safe, fun environment to learn in, with clear expectations, they blossom!

One of the questions I get over and over is, “How do you get them to learn such big words and concepts?” I never dumb down my language when teaching. My students learn French phrases like mise en place and science words like gluten. Each day I had the kids take a break about mid-way through class and we played a trivia game for starburst candy.  They answered question about types of measuring tools, types of flour, cooking methods, recipe math, science of baking and vocabulary. My proudest moments were when a student could correctly answer questions like, “What is the French phrase for everything in it’s place?” or “What is the scientific name for the protein in wheat flour?” or “Who can tell me the difference between cake flour, all-purpose and bread flour?” or “How does yeast make bread rise?” or “What is the difference between mince and dice?”

Cooking is great way to give an additional frame of reference and deeper understanding of the subjects they learn in school.  Hands-on experience in the kitchen will provide a “hook” in their growing brains that will help them recall and attach new information in the future. Uniquely, cooking uses all five of our senses and all three types of learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). When I teach them about yeast burps…yes, you read that correctly…the kids laugh and groan but it’s a lesson they will never forget.

Another method to entice children to play in the kitchen is to create adventures with a side dish of learning. During the first week of camp we pretended to stamp our passports each day as we boarded a culinary airplane via the recipes of a foreign land. Our “flavor-buds” (aka taste buds) were guided through the streets of Italy, India, Asia and finally back home to the good ole USA.  Can you guess the surprising favorite from the week? I am thrilled to announce, with a drum roll please, that the Curry Chicken with Mango and Raisins won by a landslide. The last day of camp, I challenged the kids even further. They voted on a favorite recipe from each day and then they took turns picking a winning recipe from a bowl. They had two hours to recreate the recipe with little assistance. They had to garnish, present and serve the dish. Each student shared what they liked most about the dish and one thing they learned in their presentation. Finally, the entire group voted on the overall winner for the week. It was epic fun and deliciously educational.

Another favorite activity in the kitchen was the scavenger hunt for tools. We had the entire Sur la Table store to play with but you can easily recreate the same game at home. The students each had two minutes to find a tool. I asked for a colored tool, plastic tool, a wooden tool, a metal tool, a tool you’ve never seen before or a tool we used in class today.  Once they all had a tool in hand, I called on them individually to teach us all about it. They had to stand up and tell us the name of the tool, the purpose of the tool and what recipe from class they could use it in.  The most unusual tool was the wooden crepe spreader. Not a single kid could come up with what the heck it was for. When I told them what it was for and how to use it the entire classed “ooooh’d and ahhhh’d” with fascination.

Well I hope this has inspired you to invite your kid into the kitchen with you this summer. What a great way to spend some time learning new recipes and tools. Be curious. Be silly. Be adventurous. Be hungry. Most of all, always remember to follow Rule Number One…Have F-U-N with cooking!