Adventure Learning in the Kitchen

IMG_2427Most kids I know like to cook. There’s something about taking food in one form, then chopping, smashing, stirring, scooping, pouring, tossing, sprinkling, or blending it, and making it into something new, something delicious to eat and share. Plus, cooking is very grown-up. From the time they could stand on a step stool, my girls wanted to be in the kitchen with me, and over time their skills have grown, so now they can make simple breakfasts, lunches, and dinners almost independently.

It was pure luck that a few months ago I noticed some fine print at the bottom of a Williams-Sonoma email, that said “Junior Chef Class.” I clicked through to discover that for about a year, the gold-letter kitchen store has been offering free weekly cooking classes for children. I called my local store to see if I’d read this correctly. Sure enough, they were having a class this Saturday, and no, it wasn’t full. Would we like to register? Why yes, we would.

Fast forward to last Saturday. We’ve attended four classes now in the last two months, and they have been incredible. Each month, the weekly topics are posted on the website. All Williams-Sonoma stores are supposed to offer the classes, although times may vary by location. Our store holds them at 9:30 a.m., starting a half hour before the store opens, and lasting about an hour.

A Williams-Sonoma store is one well-stocked kitchen, and the classes make full use of the myriad of tools, appliances, gadgets, and mixes sold in the store. This means kids are learning about and using high-end, high-quality kitchen products at a young age. They’re also learning techniques and cooking concepts that may be new to them. For example, our first class was about juices and smoothies. My kids know how to make one kind of smoothie – juice, yogurt, frozen fruit, blend, done. But in the class they made Raspberry-Almond Milkshakes with real almonds thrown in – we’d definitely never done that at home before, and they claimed to love it. Would they love almonds in a smoothie if it was my idea and I’d made it for them at home? I have my doubts. But the class gave them ownership of the concept, and confidence in their abilities.

The next class we attended was Bundt cakes. Definitely simple and kid-friendly. They took turns cracking eggs and adding milk and oil to store brand cake mixes, then decorated mini Bundts with glaze and sprinkles. Our third class was ice cream. They mixed vanilla ice cream starter with cream and half-and-half. While it churned in an ice cream machine, the students chopped strawberries, which they mixed with the ice cream and topped with sauces. Our most recent Junior Chef class was all about vegetables. First, the children made cauliflower “tater tots” by mixing cauliflower puree with cheese, egg, and bread crumbs; shaping into rounds, and zapping in the digital air fryer, an appliance I’d never even heard of before. They were pretty good. Next, every child got a turn spiralizing zucchini into “pasta”, which was then quick-boiled and topped with marinara. Finally, they used a corn stripper and a seasoning blend to make sweet chili-lime corn. I think it was our favorite class yet.IMG_2431

While the kids watch and learn at the demo counter, the parents are offered complimentary coffee and are free to watch the class or leisurely roam about the store. That’s how they get you. But I’m happy to be gotten. Williams-Sonoma, with all its breakables, is not a store I generally enter with my children, which is to say it’s not a store I generally enter ever. The class offers a relaxed way for me to browse its culinary treasures without worrying about damage control. And – bonus – class participants receive 10% off any purchase.

Most kids I know like to cook. But ALL kids I know like to eat. At William-Sonoma Junior Chef classes, little cooks have the chance to do both.

Do your kids like to cook? Do you work together in the kitchen or let them create on their own? Have you ever taken a cooking class together? Try calling your local baking/kitchen store(s), county recreation department, or a favorite restaurant to see what kind of class or demo you can participate in as a family, and let the creative (and salivary) juices flow.

Easy Chocolate Croissants – One of my girls’ favorite things to make.

Not sure what kitchen skills are age appropriate for your children? Lifehacker lays it all out here in an easy-to-read chart.

Chop Chop – Award-winning family magazine whose mission is to inspire and teach children to cook and eat real food with their families. The website has lots of recipes and skill demos, like how to make an omelette, use a melon-baller, and make your own salad dressing.

Award-Winning Cookbooks – In 2010, the International Association of Culinary Professionals added a Children/Youth/Family category to their annual cookbook awards. Check out the winners and finalists from the last five years, then visit your local library to see if they carry them. (Hint: 640 is the Dewey Decimal number for cookbooks)

The Kids Cook Monday – Using these weekly tips and recipes, kick back and let your little people make family dinner once a week.