Mine: those kids are so tiny! And look at them wielding that knife, that pot of water, that flame! Look at those meringues, that shrimp dish, that presentation!
Aidan: those kids are MY AGE!!! I can do that! It's so easy!
Leo: Wow, I am almost the same as that kid. Does that mean I can cut with a big knife now?
Pax: Lava cake, lava cake, lava cake, lava cake!! I wanna make lava cake!
Jeff: Um..... I need to learn how to cook something.
And so began our Master Chef nights. Since October, the kids have been cooking a meal with me once or twice a month each. They decide in advance what they would like to cook, and they do absolutely every step of the process as they possibly can. For example, I drain the boiling pasta water for all of them, although soon, Aidan will be able to handle this step. The older boys put food into the oven, but I still take it out - this is purely a height thing right now more than anything else. Pax's meals are simpler, but he still does as many steps as possible; Pax also tends to do more baking right now, because in many ways, it is more manageable than a meal. We usually cook together on the weekends, or on a night when we truly have nothing else planned. Dinner takes longer to prepare on these nights, but it is well worth the wait and the effort. And I have come to look forward to these Master Chef nights more than any other night of cooking in the month, for I love how it feels to teach these skills to my sons, to savor both their delicious meals and our time spent preparing them.
Successful nights of Master Chef cooking include:
- A simple enough dish that you have already made yourself; the recipe should also be easy enough for kids to read and to follow.
- One that you will duplicate again with the same chef so that it starts to become very familiar and comfortable
- Something that the chef has chosen himself
- A hands-off teaching mode (literally - keep your paws off the food!), along with frequently reminding yourself that part of the process of learning to cook is learning what to do after disasters. They will not learn well if you do not allow for mistakes.
- Enough time so that the chef does not feel pressured or rushed.
- A complete meal preparation, from table setting, food preparation, and serving/presentation. The chef needs to get a very good sense of everything that is involved in the dinner meal.
- A reminder to the rest of the family to arrive at the table ready to be a "grateful eater."
- Perhaps most importantly - a glass of wine (or two) during dinner preparation goes a long way in maintaining your relaxed teaching state.
Aidan's Chicken Alfredo:
...and this weekend, we're having a Master Chef Double Header. Leo will be making Chicken Parm Meatballs, and Pax will close out the evening with Molten Lava Cakes (that he's been begging to make since October!)
Emeril Lagasse (whose recipe we're using for the Molten Lava Cakes on Saturday) writes,
"My inspiration was my mom. She's a great cook, and she still cooks, and we banter back and forth about cooking. Growing up in a mostly Portuguese community, food was important and the family table was extremely important. At a very young age I understood that."
So there you have it. The proof is in the lava... er, pudding.