As a teacher, when I look around a classroom and see the students are just getting on with what they are supposed to be doing, meaning, I don’t actually have to do anything, I feel guilty. Why? Because those times when I can sit back and just observe my students (which is also an important part of my job) I feel like I should be “doing” something, you know? Teaching or reminding someone to focus on their work or gently guiding someone in the direction of the work and away from the distractions that lie in the desks. But there are times when I don’t need to do that because the boys are so engaged in what they are doing so I take those rare moments and enjoy them. Case in point, this week’s Petits Chefs session where we once again welcomed Vanessa Yeung into the lab. Vanessa’s worked with the boys four times before and she is a bit of a legend – the boys always want to know if she’s coming as a guest chef because they love, love, love making dumplings (one of Vanessa’s specialties). They were disappointed last spring that Vanessa didn’t come to work with them and when I explained that she had just had a baby, one of them wondered why she couldn’t just bring the baby as “he’d probably just sleep through the session.” When I explained that wasn’t possible, the boys said “But we LOVE Vanessa.” Out of the mouths of babes, as they say!
Vanessa is, in fact, wonderful with the boys. She is patient and kind and calm and this quiet authority works its magic on the boys as Vanessa delegates jobs. I always marvel at how noone complains when they are given a job that I KNOW they might not particularly like (they are generally super polite gentlemen but when Vanessa’s around they seem even more so!). And I continue to marvel at how the boys would be quite content to make dumplings over and over again with Vanessa and not get bored. Honestly – when I told them she was coming this term, they were all like “Yesssssss – dumplings!!!” so who are we to argue with that? I like the fact that there is a lot of chopping and a lot of steps – it certainly keeps them busy for the entire hour. Bison was requested as one of the fillings for the steamed siu mai dumpling (a few of the boys have made them before with Vanessa) and we also made a shiitake mushroom potsticker (pan fried). We got to work with some cool ingredients this week – Chinese black mushrooms (reconstituted from dried), shiitake mushrooms and bison meat. The boys did a great job of preparing the fillings…
Before we knew it, we were at “the fun bit” – assembling the dumplings.
Around about the time that the boys started assembling the pot stickers, I looked around and realised that the boys were completely oblivious to anything else around them – they were in a kind of “dumpling assembly line zone” and all we had to do was watch. It was very amusing and a sight to behold. I wonder if I could make dumpling-making a regular activity in my French classes? Certainly everyone seemed very focussed!
We had a little more trouble forming and shaping the pot stickers – the boys seemed intent on making their own creative shapes as opposed to the model Vanesssa had demonstrated, but in the end it all worked out…
Reality check #1: After all that activity there was a lot of mess. I’ll go on the record here saying that the boys were definitely less impressed with the cleaning up factor than they were with the chopping, assembling and cooking factor but we’re trying to teach them that cleanup goes hand in hand with cooking and it’s a necessary ‘evil’ if you want to have fun in the kitchen! That said, the boys were all out of the door, Tupperware in hands (and sometimes hands in Tupperware – yes guys, I saw you sneaking dumplings as you waited to be picked up!) right on time after just one hour.
Reality check #2: Someone on Twitter saw the pictures of the dumplings in progress and wondered where the photo of the finished product was. Ummm.. I always feel lucky to have ANY photos of these sessions since it’s hard to take photos while I work, cook, chop, do crowd control and make sure there isn’t too much mess to clean up along the way. Often when I see a great shot in action, my camera is way across the other side of the room. For me, a photo of the finished dish would be a bonus but as I tell the boys, it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important.
Of course, we could never do this without the amazing help of our guest chefs and I’m so grateful that so many of them want to come back to work with the boys. Vanessa – you’re a star (really!) and we so appreciate you giving us your time and expertise. Even those boys who have worked with you before told me they learned something new! We really hope you have a large repertoire of dumpling fillings that we can keep working our way through!
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Vanessa Yeung cooks Soi Gau and Ginger Chicken Potstickers with Les Petits Chefs
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Vanessa Yeung makes Bison and Pork dumplings and Coconut Tarts with Les Petits Chefs
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