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February 1, 2013

From Sous Chef to Your Chef

Image: Flickr/Santosh Pingale

Image: Flickr/Santosh Pingale

My oldest son is a freshman in high school and signed up for a Food and Nutrition class this year…not because he has a strong desire to learn to cook and not because he is interested in learning about cholesterol.  He simply likes to eat.  What 14 year old boy doesn’t? I had other reasons to encourage his choice:  I was hoping he would discover that he actually enjoyed cooking and would relieve me of some of my duties! I can only hope!

It was amusing to hear him “school” us on trans fats and many other terms he was learning for the first time, and I was impressed to watch him make some better food choices based upon his new knowledge. In fact, the class taught a range of skills from nutrition to the proper way to set the table.
Throughout the semester, the food he most desired to make at home was actually cookies—chocolate chip cookies, in fact.  (You see, our family has a “healthy” sweet tooth.) And if I can brag on my son for a moment, I have to tell you that he made some pretty incredible cookies.  In fact, he has perfected the most important skill in cookie making:  knowing the precise time to remove them from the oven so they are cooked but soft, done but not overdone.  There’s nothing worse than a hard, crunchy chocolate chip cookie. In my book, he graduated from cookie school.
Ah, but he had one more project to complete for his class.  For extra credit, he had the opportunity to cook an entire meal for our family, starting with grocery shopping and ending with washing the dishes.  I was in heaven! My job was to document the event through pictures and write a letter to the teacher verifying that he did the work.  I supervised, teaching him a long time family pasta dish, and he added several side dishes. It was fun to watch him mature through the process and once again, I was impressed with how well everything turned out. I emailed the pictures to the teacher that night, signed the letter, and congratulated him on a job well done.
The next day I received the response from the teacher. Points were deducted for some rather nit-picky errors, in my opinion:
·         Place setting: the sharp side of the dull knife was facing the spoon rather than the plate and there was no napkin under the fork.
·         In the picture of him cutting the pineapple, the cutting board was sticking ever-so-slightly off the counter…apparently a MAJOR safety hazard.
·         A cabinet door was open while he was stirring over the stove.
·         He didn’t have enough color in the meal.
Did I mention nit-picky? I have to tell you that I laughed when I read all of the errors she’d found. At the end of the day, my son had made a tasty, healthy meal that we all enjoyed. Were there things he could improve on? Sure. But if I hope to have him join me in the kitchen again, I’d better not major on those minor issues. Yes, I understand that proper etiquette, proper nutrition, and proper safety need to be addressed, but not at the expense of removing the joy and satisfaction of a job well done! Way to go, son!
So if you are looking to introduce your teen to the world of cooking or if you are simply looking for a sous chef, then I have a couple of suggestions.
1.      Figure out what she likes to eat and start there.  Teach her to make her favorite foods first and see if a spark for cooking develops.
2.     Involve him in the planning process. Teach him how to plan out a meal—main course, side dishes, a good range of colors. (My son’s teacher would be so impressed!)
3.     Teach her an easy, family favorite. If you start with a complicated meal, you’re more likely to get resistance, so select a simple meal that everyone enjoys and that will be easy to replicate.  There’s nothing like having a tasty, successful cooking experience to inspire the desire to cook.
Bon Appetite!

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