See that up there ^^^ ? Dinner, made by 5-10 year-olds. Real food. Crunchy garlicky chicken fingers and oven baked potato wedges served with a salad. Sounds simple huh? Well, yes, that was the idea behind my menu choice for both of my Food Revolution Day 2013 activities I hosted – both parent-child cooking classes – one at my school with 19 of my Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics guys and their families and one at The Kitchen Studio for 5 kids and their family members.
When I was choosing the menu for these events, I wanted something that 1. I knew we could pull off in a couple of hours, 2. That the kids would want to eat, 3. That the parents would want to eat and 4. That the kids would want to make again by themselves. A healthier version of chicken fingers and fries certainly checked off all those boxes, though on reflection, given we made one dish at the school and Kitchen Studio Food Revolution events last year, I am not entirely sure what I was thinking with three separate components.
I know my trusty helper and fellow Toronto Food Revolution Ambassador, Adell Shneer, thought I was a little crazy when I sent her my “play-by-play” sheet for my school event with everything timed down to the minute. Her response “That looks great, hope we can keep to schedule.” Haha! But as Adell and anyone who has been reading my blog for a while will know, I don’t like to dumb things down just because I am cooking with kids. If you raise the bar high, they will absolutely come up to meet you there. In my mind, I guess I wanted to show people that making a healthy family dinner not just for but WITH your kids is possible. Getting families back in the kitchen, cooking and eating together is one of the premises of Food Revolution Day and one I wanted to really embrace this year.
Last Thursday, nearly 60 boys and their family members gathered in our school dining hall to cook and eat together. Guided by the calm, organised Adell, the boys and their families worked through the three meal components in just under 2 hours. Pretty amazing, and made possible with A LOT of help – as well as Adell taking complete charge of the “lesson” part of the evening, I had the ever-calm Michelle (who works with the boys in cooking club every week alongside me), Emilie and Janet (who helped this year with the Cooking Basics club), my mum (because there’s nothing like coming on vacation and being put to work!) and Jacquie and Steve (who, although they were there cooking with their own kids, were able to lend a hand where necessary). A special thanks to Chef Corey who helped me with my food ordering (and countless other tasks) and Karen who just listened and nodded as I planned out my event so she could get the facilities organized, not batting an eyelid at the craziness of it all! The Petits Chefs themselves helped out setting up the dining hall too – it really was a team effort.
Cooking with that many people really does require some planning but as Adell said, if you start with a decent recipe, you’re halfway there. Apart from the fact that choosing recipes from the Food Revolution cookbook seemed a natural thing to do for a Food Revolution event, I happen to love the cookbook. It’s real food, made simple. Not simplified, just made do-able and approachable. For anyone.
I mean, how can learning how to make French fries from scratch be a bad thing? Especially when there’s no frying involved. The boys particularly loved these (as I imagined they would). If just one of the boys encourages a parent to make these again, I’m happy. But I am sure there will be more.
And really, a lesson where you get to get your hands all “goopy” with egg, flour and cracker crumbs? The best!
I loved wandering around the room watching parents and their kids hard at work making their dinner. I tried not to intrude too much as they caught up on each others’ days. And, in fact, I didn’t have to. After having the group lesson with Adell, the boys were fairly independent at their stations. I barely had to help at all. Made me so proud
Watching these boys and their parents create this meal, then sit down to eat it together might sound like a small drop in the Food Revolution ocean but imagine if we all stopped to cook and eat together just once a week, what a difference that would make. The Food Revolution is not about big changes once a year, it’s about small changes often. I hope the boys and their parents will look back on this evening remembering how much fun it was and be inspired to cook a meal from scratch at home.
The following day, on Food Revolution Day, I did the class all over again. I was very lucky to have the support of The Kitchen Studio, The Cookbook Store, Sobeys and Yorkshire Valley Farms for this public parent/ child cooking class.
With just 5 kids and 6 adults, it was a much smaller operation but not without its challenges – cooking with kids you don’t know is a little nerve-wracking (“Will they listen to me?!”) because apart from anything else, it’s hard to predict what their skills will be in the kitchen. I love the space at The Kitchen Studio as it’s just like cooking in a home kitchen so it’s not at all intimidating which is important when you have a group of kids who don’t know each other (or me!) cooking together. In any event, I should not have worried – we had a wonderful group of enthusiastic, interested kids which great “can do” attitudes – they jumped right in at every task and completed this meal in a little over 2 hours. Given there were 5 and 6 year-olds in the group, I think this is mighty impressive.
From the potatoes to the chicken to the salad, these kids worked hard and learned some great basic kitchen techniques on the way. Slicing potatoes into same-sized wedges so they’d cook evenly…
Oiling the potatoes so they were evenly coated in the drizzle of olive oil…
Crushing garlic (and hey, I think a couple of the adults learned a trick or two here!)…
Crunching crackers to make crumb coating for our chicken and picking leaves off the thyme…
Zesting lemons and chopping butter…
Slicing raw chicken into even-sized fingers… (these kids were great about touching the chicken – even some of my Petits Chefs are still working their way to feeling ok about touching raw meat!)
And then the fun part: coating the chicken in flour, egg and the cracker crumbs…
While the chicken and potatoes were cooking, we made a huge salad together..
And then (finally!) we sat down to eat… The meal was truly delicious.
By the end of the night, we had settled into a comfortable rhythm and it felt like we had been cooking together for ages. Food and cooking really do have a way of bringing people together. And that sense of community, coming together over a meal prepared together, is totally what Food Revolution (Day) is about. I’m excited to continue working as an Ambassador for REAL FOOD. Because nothing is more important than cooking it, sharing it and passing it on.
Food Revolution Cookbook giveaway (worldwide) Edited to add: Contest closed, thanks for entering!
Thanks for the generosity of The Cookbook Store, I have one copy of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Cookbook to giveaway – to anyone, anywhere in the world (I’m covering the shipping).
To enter, leave me a comment and tell me how you embrace Cook it. Share it. (Who do you pass on your knowledge to?)
For a bonus entry, tweet the following message:
I want to win a copy of the @JamieOliver @FoodRev cookbook from @cookbookshop + @eatlivtravwrite http://bit.ly/Z7kR7a #FRD2013
Then come back to leave me a message telling me you did. Contest closes on Monday, May 27th at 6pm EST and the winner will be chosen via Random.org and emailed on Tuesday May 28th. Good luck!
* Canadians: Have you entered my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and attachment giveaway yet? Closes May 29th 2013 at 6pm.
** Hey Canadians, there are some cool prizes to be won over on the Canadian Lentils Love your Lentils site – a blogger, a home chef, and a voter will all win the chance to join Chef Michael Smith in Saskatchewan on June 23, 2013 for a culinary adventure. I have two recipes in the running!