How India learnt to let kids -- boys and girls -- into the kitchen

  • Meenakshi Iyer, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 11, 2016 15:13 IST
Cooking and baking workshops, restaurant kitchen tours and six-course meals, the young ones today probably belong to the most food-literate generation (Illustration: Siddhant Jumde)

Cooking and baking workshops, restaurant kitchen tours and six-course meals, the young ones today probably belong to the most food-literate generation

My mother has always believed in an old adage: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

So my first experience in the kitchen was at the age of eight, when I put together a quick egg sandwich to calm those nasty hunger pangs. I enjoyed making a meal so much that I would watch my mother cook every day, and she would encourage me to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. Soon, I learnt to make more complex recipes: palak paneer, koftas. By the age of 12, I was rolling out perfectly round chapatis to go with dal tadka. Knowing how to fix a meal not only made me independent, but it got me interested in food.

Children during a cooking workshop at Andheri’s APC Cook Studio (Photo: APB Cook Studio)

Almost two decades since my first cooking experience, I relived that joy of creating something for the first time when my two nieces (ages 11 and 13) and nephew (age 10) did a little experiment of their own in the kitchen this summer. We tried a recently launched kids’ meal kit by Haute Chef. On the menu were kathi rolls with green apple and cilantro chutney, and linguine pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese. The excitement in the kitchen was palpable as the three read out instructions from the accompanying recipe guides, carefully sorted ingredients for each step, and followed the recipes to the T. The result was delicious as well as nutritious. And that sense of accomplishment and confidence on their faces was priceless. In fact, my nephew, already a bit of a foodie, even ended up plating the dish the way a professional chef would, complete with a swoosh of sauce, and a sprig of cilantro on top of the rolls. “Where did you learn that?” I asked. “MasterChef”, pat came the reply.

Early start

Gone are the days when parents were apprehensive about allowing children, especially boys, into the kitchen. Cooking, today, in our urban, nuclear lives, is a more gender-neutral activity. And our kids are exposed to a variety of food options we couldn’t fathom when we were their age. They accompany their parents to the best of restaurants; they watch television shows like MasterChef Junior where children their age pull off complicated dishes; and they are eager to attend cooking workshops tailor-made for them. It seems like the right time to get them out of the play kitchen and into the real one.

Read more: ‘Business cannot come before our kids’, says Jamie Oliver

“Shows like MasterChef have been a catalyst. The show brought food from the kitchen into the living room. Being a chef, or just cooking, is far more fashionable now. Kids today know the difference between mozzarella cheese and Parmesan, and can easily name at least four different kinds of pasta,” says food consultant and author Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a mother of two (ages 10 and 14).

Chef Anjali Pathak during a baking workshop with kids (Photo: Flavour Diaries)

Taking a cue from her 14-year-old son’s interest in cooking and baking, Ghildiyal started a summer cooking workshop for children called Kids in the Kitchen, this year. The 10-day course includes modules on nutrition, understanding safety, knife skills, and decoding taste and flavour. “By the end of the workshop, children are confident of tackling at least 25 to 30 recipes on their own,” she says.

There are other advantages too. Children learn how to appreciate fruits, vegetables and dairy. They understand where their food comes from, and what it looks and feels like raw. They also realise that cooking is a lot of hard work, so they learn not to waste it. “One of the kids hated moong dal, but when he saw other children eat it, he tried it too and loved it,” adds Ghildiyal.

Read more: Is Mumbai on the cusp of a fine-dining revolution?

Playing with food

At Flavour Diaries in Khar, Chef Anjali Pathak teaches children how to bake and decorate cookies, make pastas of different shapes and sizes, and create sauces to go with them. Each child is given a separate cooking station, with ingredients to facilitate a fully hands-on experience. “I think children are the best cooks. They are so curious and creative that they want to know everything,” says Pathak. After each session, she invites parents to join them for a meal prepared by their children at the beautifully sun-lit dining area in her studio.

For parents, too, watching their children turn raw ingredients into something edible is a rewarding experience. For Padmaja Dubey, 43, it was a glass of virgin mojito. “My eight-year-old daughter Stuti learnt to make the drink at APB’s cooking workshop last month. I was thrilled when she made it for me. Now, she helps me dice and chop vegetables at home. The other day she told me ‘Mumma, now I know why you cry when you cut onions.’” Now, Stuti wants to send a picture of her creation to her teacher, and has just acquired a new induction stove to further her kitchen experiments.

Chef and TV show host Rakhee Vaswani, who conducts similar workshops, recounts another experience. “There is a girl who has been coming to me for baking classes since the age of five. She used to be scared of induction or handling the dough. Today, she bakes cupcakes, cooks Mexican and Italian meals for her parents and I couldn’t be more proud to see her grow,” says Vaswani.

Fuel interest in food

And it’s not just the cooking studios that are taking up the mantle of educating the young ones. Restaurants, too, have been doing their bit to get children interested in not just food, but also the behind-the-scenes action. Last month, Indigo Deli organised an edition of its monthly Comfort Kitchen, this one especially curated for children. A six-course menu that included dishes like confit duck spring rolls, smoked chicken and salad tarts, was devoured by children as young as five. The session also involved a peek into the kitchen and interaction with chefs, where children ask questions on various aspects of a commercial kitchen. “The older children seemed more familiar with the names of the dishes and some cooking terms. But the young ones enjoyed eating the food as much. Now, I plan to do another edition for children who are serious eaters and interested in understanding food better,” says Chef Jaydeep Mukherjee.

Children assemble burgers at Kidzania (Photo: Kidzania)

Starting next week, the chain California Pizza Kitchen is starting a weekly property called Kids’ Kitchen Tours. Children can make their own pizzas with the chefs, and taste the fruits of their labour at the end of it. At Kidzania — the indoor theme park — in Ghatkopar, a lot of role plays involve actual cooking. For instance, at the donut and burger shops, children learn to make burgers and decorate their donuts. “We see a lot of boys participating in cooking activities. The ratio is usually 60 per cent girls and 40 per cent boys,” says Tarandeep Singh, DGM (marketing), Kidzania. “Children also learn about the importance of quality and hygiene,” he adds.

While there are many benefits of letting your child’s imagination run wild in the kitchen, the one that surpasses all is the fact that you are imparting a life skill that will help them be self-reliant for the rest of their lives. A hungry 12-year-old child who can cook is more likely to rustle up a quick stir-fry with leftover rice and veggies rather than hunting through the pantry to munch on something unhealthy. “Children need to know that food doesn’t need to come out of a TetraPak or a carton,” adds Mukherjee.

Upcoming cooking workshops for children

Kids in the Kitchen

This 10-day workshop by Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal includes hand-on training for children in the age group of 9 to 12 years and 13 to 16 years on knife skills, safety in the kitchen, and learning 30 nutritious recipes.

When: June 13 to 24, 10.30am to 1.30pm (9-12 years); 2.30pm to 5.30pm (13-16 years)

At: APB Cook Studio, 301, Srishti Plaza, Saki Vihar Road, Andheri (E)

Call: 4215 2799

Price: Rs 5,500 (9 to 12 years) and Rs 7,500 (13 to 16 years)

Kids’ Baking Class

In this workshop by Chef Anjali Pathak, children will learn how to make cookie dough and lemon cupcakes. Each child is given a separate cooking station and set of ingredients to work with. This class is suitable for all ages including toddlers.

When: June 23, 3pm to 5pm

At: Flavour Diaries, Rohan Plaza (above Khar Social), 5th Road (behind Oh! Calcutta), off SV Road, Khar (W)

Call: 9820 143404

Price: Rs 2,000

Kids’ Kitchen Tours

Children can bring out their inner chef by making their own pizza with the chefs in the kitchen. There will be a storytelling session followed by lunch.

Time: 11am to 12.30pm and 4.30pm to 6pm

At CPK outlets

Call: 6636 6636

The writer tweets as @Culturecola

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