Teaching Kids to Cook

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It’s a busy day at work and my cell phone rings from somewhere on my crowded desk. I retrieve the singing stupid-phone from under a file folder and look at the caller ID: it’s my nineteen year old stepson.
“Hello?”
“Marisa?”
“Yeah?”
“I’m at Winn Dixie looking for cooking wine so I can make that brown gravy with my roast like you made the other night.”
“Sauce,” I say, “Sauce, not gravy. And don’t buy cooking wine, there’s too much salt in it. There’s an open bottle of decent red on the counter at home, use that.”
“Okay. Can I use some of that roux in the refrigerator?”

OR
My twenty-year-old daughter stands over a red bell pepper on a cutting board, keeping this alien thing at bay by holding a ten inch French knife above it. “Mom, how do I open this?”
“Open it? What do you mean, just cut it in half.”
“But which way?” she makes two crossways motions with the knife.
“Oh, here, longwise, then snap out the seeds, like this.”

OR
My husband tells me that while we were dating and one morning I made French omelets for his two teen aged sons, the older one awoke early the following Saturday, laid out all his mise in place and began making omelets, French style, with a fork. (Guess I made an impression!)

I like being a sort of a mentor to the younger generation and I even like it when my friends call me with food questions (“what did you put in the rice the other night? I’ve got some shrimp and I’m trying to make it now…”), but more importantly, I think all kids should learn to cook. Anthony Bourdain goes over this in great detail in a chapter in Kitchen Confidential, reviews the cooking basics that everyone should know before being unleashed in the world.

I agree. To be able to cook for yourself a healthy and enjoyable meal and to cook for others is a basic and fulfilling aspect of life. My stepson can really wow the girls with his honey-bacon roasted chicken or shrimp linguini and maybe someday he’ll even stop calling sauces gravy. My daughter, her nose in books or her computer most of the time, and enjoying dining out like the foodie that she is, can crack an egg one-handed and can wield a French knife fairly well. And her Thanksgiving turkey would make any grandmother proud.

The other stepson, Mr. Omelet, long ago moved out but I do know he does the most of the cooking for his girlfriend.

Cooking for oneself unfortunately is awkward for a lot of people. Even for those who love food and love to cook, they fake their way through cookbook recipes without the building blocks of basic knife, preparation, cooking and storage skills. I include “storage” because you can get sick from not storing food properly. My husband an example of this, always covering a hot pot of chili instead of allowing it to cool before putting into the refrigerator.

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But it’s difficult to purchase the proper cooking utensils due to the general (incorrect) view of cookery. Most of my kitchen tools I purchased from suppliers while I was chef, or from a kitchen equipment dealer outlet store since. Decent knives can now be had from your all-around kitchen store but try to find among all the over-priced gleaming stainless steel pots and pans an aluminum sauté pan and you’ll go bust. This I know from my attempt at birthdays and Christmas fitting out my kids with the tools of my former trade. FYI: stainless steel pans do not conduct heat as well as aluminum, I don’t care what you got, Bed Bath and Beyond, and that aluminum alloy shit is just too damn expensive. This dilemma of finding the proper pan adds to the fallacy that cooking is a special skill, for the elite or simply something grandmothers did well (my own excluded here, she didn’t like onions so cooked without them and that’s just wrong.)

Oh, there’s the phone again.

Stepson (now moved into his own apartment): “They had those big scallops on sale today. Tell me again how you sear them?”

I’m going to his house for dinner!

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