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Kids in the Kitchen at Nella Cucina

You all know how much I love cooking with kids, right? Well last week I had the great fortune to spend a day at Nella Cucina’s cooking camp for kids.  Result? Well firstly, I wish I had gone to such wonderful cooking classes when I was little (no, Welsh Rarebit in Home Economics class in Grade 9 does not quite come close) and secondly, more confirmation that teaching kids to cook is one of the most rewarding and fun jobs one could have!

Described on their website as “a FULL hands-on class, and much more involved than most Kids Camps. [They] cook real food, similar to a regular adult class. This is not a cooking class where kids sit and colour and decorate a few cupcakes!” A truer word was never spoken.  The menu on the day I observed was as follows:

Wow – not just challenging in terms of the preparation involved, but also in terms of “would the kids eat the food?”.

When I arrived around 10am, most of the kids were there. Some were playing hangman, some were eating the granola bars and fruit laid out on the table, some were helping Chef Pam make a smoothie snack to get the day started.  It’s a calm vibe in there in the morning that’s for sure.  The kids have mostly been together since Monday so they are pretty comfortable with each other, the chefs and the routine.  As Chef Pam, Chef Vanessa and Chef Joanne get the day underway the go through the menu, cover safety rules, hand out tasting spoons to be kept in pockets at all times and make sure everyone’s hands are washed.  The kids are divided into three groups, mostly by age and each group will work with one chef throughout the day.

The Chefs organise the menus so that the kids will stop mid-morning to have a snack (that they have prepared).  Today’s snack was the spiced crackers and hummus (with a bonus “will they eat it?” eggplant dip – baba ganoush). Everyone got down to business:

And the result?

The kids LOVED the chips and wolfed them down.  The dips, well they tried them (one little girl took a look at the hummus and said “I don’t know what this is but I will try it!”) but didn’t eat much, especially the younger kids who happily munched on the chips after they had had the requisite taste of both dips.

After about 15 minutes break during which the older kids chatted and the younger ones played hangman (how refreshingly free of technology this room was!), everyone went back to work.

This carrot salad kept the younger students occupied for a very long time (note to self: excellent recipe to make with the boys in Petits Chefs so that *everyone* has a job at all times!)

The Moroccan chicken kept them busy too!

And the results?

Well this eggplant salad with Tahini dressing converted more than one self-proclaimed anti-eggplant teen!

This was an amazing restaurant-quality meal – prepared by 7-14 year olds. Incredible.

Surprisingly, many of the kids didn’t eat much. Most of them tasted everything (sometimes on request of the Chefs) but many of them ate very little. It was a hot day and a lot of them looked completely exhausted (a long week in the kitchen!) but I was impressed to see how many of them at least tried the food.  From my work with kids, I know there’s no point forcing the issue and that often, kids might not try something in front of strangers but will happily try at home later.  I am betting many of the kids from this week’s class will attempt at least one of the recipes they took home.

After an impromptu dessert of ladyfingers and ice-cream (“SCORE!”), everyone went back to work on the dessert which they would take home in decorated paper bags:

Lots of citrusy goodness was happening that afternoon!

Again, the kids worked in three groups on the cupcakes:

And a short while later…

Absolutely delicious!

What an absolutely fabulous day everyone had (me included!).  It definitely gave me some ideas of ways to organise my Petits Chefs (alas, we will still be working in the science lab on single burners next year…) and some different techniques to teach them.  Nella Cucina is doing a wonderful job of teaching the next generation that real food is easy and flavourful and totally do-able, even if you are only 7 years old!

For more information about Nella Cucina, check out their website or read my profile about Nella on Spotlight Toronto!

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31 Responses to Kids in the Kitchen at Nella Cucina

  1. penny aka jeroxie July 26, 2010 at 07:26 #

    I wish I could be involved with something like this over here! Brilliant :D

  2. Belinda @zomppa July 26, 2010 at 08:15 #

    If that’s a brown bag lunch…I’ll take it! So cool that the children got to do this – how can they not like these dishes?

  3. Carol Egbert July 26, 2010 at 08:24 #

    Looks like a terrific way for kids to learn about good food and have fun at the same time. Thanks for an interesting post!

  4. Rochelle (Acquired Taste) July 26, 2010 at 08:30 #

    I’ve been working with my little one on cooking, so far it’s been fairly easy to get him to eat, but I think that’s because he gets to choose the recipes. I’m surprised that the kids here were so into these foods that are usually deemed to be un-kid-friendly :) The crackers look like something I’ll have to give a try with my kiddo for sure :D

  5. Edite Sammons July 26, 2010 at 10:22 #

    How refreshing to read this. Kids engaged, having fun, no technology and trying new things! Bravo!

  6. Alison July 26, 2010 at 11:47 #

    I love the fact that the kids were cooking Middle Eastern foods! Goes right with our mission to get people to pay attention to the Mediterranean Diet.

  7. Tami July 26, 2010 at 18:15 #

    Seems home ec classes had a national curriculum, considering Mt Isa and Adelaide are at opposite ends of the country……..I remember well the Welsh Rarebit in Grade 9!!

    So glad to see cooking classes have advanced dramatically and what fun to have the opportunity to participate.

  8. Liana @ femme fraiche July 26, 2010 at 21:07 #

    It’s pretty amazing and sad that these kids cook much better than I believe I ever will…sounds like such a fun and rewarding day!

  9. Sara July 26, 2010 at 23:42 #

    I cook and bake with kids (younger than 8) and I can confirm that it is indeed the most rewarding activity I do with them! And they have such a great sense of ownership and achievement that they eat even food that we would usually wonder “will they ever eat this?” Thanks for the post!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite July 29, 2010 at 10:23 #

      Yes when I used to work at a summer camp for 3-10 year olds, I loved cooking with the teeny ones!!

  10. FrenchPressMemos July 27, 2010 at 00:02 #

    Ohhh…this looks like a BLAST. My daughter, a little over 2 years old, was rolling pasta with her had today. Cooking with her is becoming such a fun activity! Your pictures are lovely!

  11. Daydreamer Desserts July 27, 2010 at 00:23 #

    Mardi, great job with all the picture collages what an amazing experience! I’m so impressed with the menu chosen for the class and how beautiful everything turned out, just wonderful!

  12. Gourmantic July 27, 2010 at 00:57 #

    That’s a mighty great effort by the kids! What a fabulous way to introduce them to a cuisine of the world.

  13. A Little Yumminess July 27, 2010 at 14:04 #

    Love cooking with kids…it is the best way to expose them to new cuisines! If they make it, they will try it

  14. Tsering July 27, 2010 at 16:50 #

    Your photos are lovely, and I am bound to send my little one there. I love cooking with my little one girl.

  15. Cat July 29, 2010 at 16:08 #

    so impressive! charlotte would love this sort of camp for kids. as would her mama, who could then have her cook dinner . . .

  16. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction July 29, 2010 at 16:45 #

    Wow… That’s some pretty impressive food. If you hadn’t said that it was prepared by kids, I never would have guessed! Sounds like a great day and a really fun experience. I wish I would have had the opportunity to go to a camp like that as a kid… And I wouldn’t mind helping out/teaching at one now that I’m an adult!

  17. Conor @ HoldtheBeef July 30, 2010 at 09:08 #

    Some of these dishes would have many adults struggling to turn out so well. I’m impressed.

    Also loved how the Petits Chefs got stuck into a few games of good old hangman on the mushroom day. I’d forgotten about hangman.

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