Food is community. When we think about making a meal, it’s generally to share with others and something I am always happy to hear from the parents of my Petits Chefs is that the boys want to cook with their parents at home – that sharing component is so important when it comes to food and cooking.
And when it comes to my work with the boys, I am continually blown away by the generosity of the Toronto food community – so many wonderful talented chefs and food enthusiasts wanting to share their knowledge with the boys. Now, it’s not just me reaching out to people asking them if they would be willing to spend an hour with the boys one Monday, people are approaching me asking if they might work with the boys. Case in point, late last year, Kyla Zanardi, partner of Matt Basile (aka Fidel Gastro and also Rebel without a Kitchen) spotted some of the boys’ kitchen adventures on my Instagram feed and asked if the boys would like to visit Lisa Marie (their bricks and mortar restaurant, as opposed to Priscilla, their food truck) and maybe cook with Matt.
I knew that the boys would be very impressed with Matt, a young entrepreneur who has really carved out a niche for himself in the Toronto food scene over the past few years. I have met Matt and Kyla a few times and thought he would be a wonderful teacher so was thrilled to take them up on the offer this past Monday. Monday, the restaurant’s “weekend”. But Matt was happy to welcome a bunch of excited 8-11 year-olds into his kitchen on his day off. And even happier to show them the ropes and teach them some neat tricks!
It’s always interesting to see what my guest chefs and field trip hosts will suggest as a dish that the boys can make in an hour (I send them a list of the types of things they have done in the past so they can see what they are capable of) and I was grinning from ear to ear when I heard what Matt had in store for them. A deep fried pizza base topped with an arugula-basil salad, a meatball and tomato sauce. All except the pizza dough would be made from scratch in that hour. I loved how ambitious it was. I loved that this was going to be a challenge 🙂
We started out with the meatballs. I was surprised to see the boys all extremely enthusiastic to get their hands messy. Sometimes raw meat doesn’t go down so well when I use it back at school. I guess Matt made it seem like it was the cool thing to do so they were all fighting to get their hands dirty.
And speaking of getting their hands dirty, Matt showed the boys the right way to wear their chef’s cloth – tucked into the back of their aprons “like a tail” as one boy told me. I can’t believe I haven’t thought to do this with the boys’ cloths back at school (they stay on their work benches) and think I’ll be implementing this as of next week. It made for a lot less mess, for sure!
Some of the boys got to use the “big chef’s knife” (well, not a gigantic one but certainly bigger than the paring knives we use at school). They did a valiant job! Also, I notice noone complained about chopping onions when Matt suggested it – when I ask them it’s all “But it makes me cry” and drama. Not so on Monday!
But Matt wasn’t just a patient, kind and fun teacher. He had GADGETS! Oh yes, he introduced the boys to the Robot Coupe (and of course now all the boys think we need one of these for our little lab!), a pan that could just about fit one Petit Chef in (Matt explained that it cooks things like sauces much faster with a greater surface area on the cooktop) and the “coolest can opener ever” (to get it to sit on top of the can, there was a fair amount of “bashing” involved!) that helps Matt and the kitchen crew open many large cans really fast! Apparently boys don’t grow out of loving gadgets 🙂
Then “Team Sauce” got to work, breaking down the whole plum tomatoes to create the best sauce ever. Bonus? They got to use Nonna’s wooden spoons (again, almost as big as they were). It was quite serious work!
And then the magic happened… Matt deep-fried the mini pizza dough bases (and all the boys thought we should have get a deep-fryer for our classes too!), explaining that this could be done in a wok at home and then started to assemble the pizzas, making a quick arugula-basil salad to top the pizzas with, then gently placing a meatball and some sauce on top of the greens. The boys were so excited but they managed to keep it together enough to assemble their own pizzas…
Aren’t they adorable? I can tell you our 10 minute taxi ride back to work was “the longest drive ever” according to the boys. They were itching to eat their creations. As the boys in my taxi got out of the car, they were already opening their takeout containers and asking if they could start eating right there and then on the sidewalk! It was a struggle to get these pizzas back to school intact and then as I stood outside waiting to dismiss them after they had collected their things inside, many of them had already eaten the whole thing in the 5 minutes it took to grab their stuff! I doubt many parents even saw these (perhaps remnants around the boys’ mouths but certainly not an entire, intact pizza!). I’d say that was a success!
We’re so grateful to Kyla for organising this field trip and to Matt for welcoming the boys with open arms on his day off and for showing them the behind the scenes of a working restaurant. It’s such a valuable experience for them to see where their food comes from, be it at a farmer’s market or from a restaurant kitchen and I am always so excited when wonderfully talented people are willing to work with my students. I think a few of them might even become customers, Matt, if their reaction to this one dish is anything to go on!
Lisa Marie (website)
638 Queen St West
Toronto, ON M6J1E3