Because, you know, there’s nothing like keeping everyone on their toes until the very last minutes of school, Les Petits Chefs (accompanied by the ever fabulous Ms Stephenson, Ms Carter and Ms Lynch) to En Ville Catering on Monday to participate in a “cook off” 🙂 And they did a mighty fine job, considering it was the second last day of school. I was concerned they might have lost a little of their focus but one should never underestimate the power of putting little boys in chef jackets in a professional kitchen – you’ve never seen such concentration!!!
When I was trying to think of somewhere to bring the boys to end the Petits Chefs’ year on a high note (it’s difficult because each week they tell me is “the BEST”), I was thrilled when Chef Geoffrey Johnson invited the boys to come to En Ville to participate in a “black box” challenge. I knew this would appeal to the boys competitive nature but I also thought it was a great way to see what these boys have learned this term! As a teacher who tries to encourage collaborative group work in her classrooms, I was interested to see how the boys would work together in teams towards the common goal of the best plate of food…
On arrival, we got suited up in chef jackets (!) and were presented with the ingredients – gorgeous fresh produce and three “secret ingredients” of which they had to use two (chicken, flatiron steak and tea bags!).
What do I see in these photos? Concentration. Boys having fun. Boys engaged and happy. Pretty much a teacher’s dream scenario! As I wandered around whilst they cooked, what struck me was how they just kind of got on with it. In an unfamiliar environment, working with chefs they didn’t know (and who were not used to working with little boys in their kitchen), using equipment they had never seen before, the boys just got to work. The fearlessness of children is an amazing thing to watch at work…
One group used the tea bag to make a refreshing jug of iced tea (it was a very hot and humid day, more so in the kitchen, so this was smart thinking on their part!)
As they were making this, I overheard the discussion about how to sweeten it (with honey) and how much to put in (not much because “adults don’t like really sugary things”). As it turns out, they barely sweetened it at all and it was really good (and I don’t even like iced tea!)
A gorgeous plate of seasonal local produce and chicken, steamed and grilled. Loved the idea of this dish and it tasted great but the collective opinion of the judges (myself, Ms Carter and Ms Stephenson) was that it was a tad on the simple side, not really highlighting many techniques (sorry but we had to find something not so good to say about all the dishes even when there was nothing bad to say!). The plating was beautiful – in fact, one group member told me that I would not even need to “alter” the picture at all because it was “the best looking plate of food ever”. Indeed it’s a mighty fine looking plate of food!
Next up… pasta with chicken in a creamy tomato and pepper sauce with …. sliders (and awesome plating!)
There are a number of things I like about this dish. First of all, who could NOT love the asparagus, carefully chopped evenly by one of the boys to make a beautiful border for the plate? Second of all, who couldn’t love the sliders? A little random, for sure, but such a great touch! Whilst they were a little, shall we say, rare, for me (I prefer my meat on the well done side), I loved that they had cut out slider shapes from the flatiron steak and grilled them. Well, barely. The boys in this group totally made my day as I watched them devour the “test piece” of steak (“A good chef always tastes their food, right Mademoiselle?” Errr. well yes, but a tasting portion not nearly a whole steak between four boys!!!) – yes, cooked rare like that – and LOVE it. They all went back for more – sneaking bites when they thought I was not looking. Since there are boys in this group who have come a VERY long way in terms of what they will try and eat, it totally made my day, this scene. Had the sliders been a little more cooked, this group might have won.
I was pleased to see a group going for the “meat and potatoes” plate:
A beautiful flatiron steak (“with the criss-cross pattern, Mademoiselle!) a salad dressed with a tangy lime dressing and pan roasted potatoes (sweet and fingerling). And some pretty asparagus spears to set off the whole plate! Again, this steak was not quite cooked enough for me (though watching everyone polish it off after judging, clearly this is how boys like their meat: rare) but I loved the concept of this dish – a classic summer plate. Sadly, the sweet potatoes were not peeled (and that’s a little too much fibre for me, guys!) and some of the seasonings were a little aggressive but the concept was fabulous.
Our last – and winning – plate was a simple curry served on brown rice (infused with tea – genius!!)
As you can see, the boys all loved the asparagus (prime season right now) so even though this was a little odd on the curry, it worked. Actually what happened is that one group was using the grill for their vegetables and others thought that looked like fun so they jumped on the grilling bandwagon whether it was a good fit for their plate or not!! This curry (though a little on the spicy side) was a great plate and worked well with the ever-so-slightly-tasting-of-tea-rice. Considering it was made by a group of our youngest Petits Chefs (just finishing Grade 4), I was impressed. Nice flavours, simple but effective plating and nice technique shown with all the chicken cut the same size (this is important!). Well done guys!
Thank you to Geoffrey Johnson and the En Ville team for welcoming us to your kitchens – I am sure it is a trip that many boys will remember for a long time to come! Thank you Ms Carter for being there every week this term to help out with the larger than expected group of boys. Thanks Ms Lynch and Ms Stephenson for all your help this term. as well.
And last but certainly not least, thank you Petits Chefs. It’s been a GREAT year and I have learned so much from you. Don’t worry, I already have a few tricks up my sleeve for next year’s sessions!! See you back in September!