Croissants, gougeres, ratatouile, crème brûlée: These are all traditional French delicacies that professional chefs master over years of instruction and practice. But thanks to Mardi Michels, they’re also recipes a 7-year-old can master.
In her new cookbook, In the French Kitchen with Kids, the Toronto-based kids’ culinary instructor has simplified dozens of French classics for young cooks, with an emphasis on pastries and savory standards like steak frites and poulet rôti (aka roast chicken).
When she started developing cooking classes for the Toronto boys’ school where she teaches, she realized that the recipes she was adapting from kids’ cookbooks were way too easy for her students. “They were so much more capable than I expected, and the students were bored with the recipes we were using.” So Michels looked to adult cookbooks for inspiration and found plenty in those by Jamie Oliver and other authors who trade in approachable, everyday recipes.
Parents are so worried about mistakes and messes, but cooking is messy.
Here are Michels’ top tips for cooking with kids:
Perfection is overrated. “I’m a perfectionist myself in the kitchen, but I’ve learned to put those tendencies aside when teaching the boys. They’re so proud to be making something by themselves that they’re not bothered when a recipe doesn’t work out.
I’ve had to learn to relax a bit and give my students the credit they deserve.”
Teach yourself to fish … “It’s important to feel comfortable with a technique or tool before teaching kids how to use it. Master a few basic cooking techniques so you can confidently pass them along.”
… And embrace the shared learning experience. “Most of the recipes I make with my students I haven’t tried before. So we’re all going into it blind. I always say to them, ‘I’m learning along with you, and we’re in this together.’ Positioning yourself as a partner to the child will help them stay at ease.”
It’s OK not to try things. “Kids don’t always eat what they cook. Don’t make this a big deal. Encourage them to try it, but don’t force them to eat it. They’re still being exposed to new foods and learning from the process.”
Demonstrate, don’t do. In her book, Michels writes: “Kids are remarkably capable in the kitchen, but they need to be shown how to do certain things, sometimes multiple times, before they can work on their own. You can start a task to show them how—but let them have a go! They learn fast if they are given the chance to practice. So don’t take that away from them by taking over.”
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