A world where teens want to eat succotash and 8-year-olds are adding mushrooms to their pizzas sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone or one of those commercials for Hidden Valley dressings. In reality, that world exists right here in New Hampshire.
More cooking classes are being offered for kids, even at local libraries. At The Culinary Playground in Derry, owner Kristen Chinosi coordinates programs like workshops, birthday parties and weekly classes around young chefs’ interests while introducing unfamiliar culinary creations.
“We want the kids to try new things, but also know that there’s something on the palette here that [they] can relate to,” Chinosi said. “We know as research proves that kids are more likely to try something that they’ve had a hand in making and growing.”
At The Culinary Playground, Chinosi integrates a variety of foods and topics to keep classes fresh, especially for returning kid chefs. The current pie series for middle and high school students incorporates favorites like pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust, and unique dishes, like empanadas (a Spanish hand pie). Students were making (and devouring) succotash during her farmers market course over the summer, where kids visited the market, bought their ingredients and made recipes in the kitchen classroom.
When it comes to bringing kids into the kitchen at home, Chinosi said to set aside a time for doing so, or assign a particular task for youngsters.
“I think so many parents recognize that it’s important to have their kids learn these skills, but when you’re frazzled and you’re trying to make dinner, and you have your 4-year-old pulling on your apron strings, it might not be the appropriate time,” Chinosi said. “You want it to be positive, because there are going to be mistakes made and there’s going to be a mess made.”
Lisa Desrochers, owner of Sophisticakes in Windham, recommended making it a special occasion.
At Sophisticakes, there are opportunities for kids to learn how to cook in workshops, culinary camps, baking camps and birthday parties. The Culinary Camps Around the World classes combine Desrochers’ love of cooking with her passion for travel. Kids cook a traditional breakfast from the featured country, followed by a lunch, and conclude with a dessert to bring home to families. Then, given any holiday, Desrochers said it’s guaranteed there will be some themed workshop.
Sophisticakes offers programs in three age groups: 4- to 6-year-olds, 6- to 8-year-olds and ages 9 and up.
“We kind of kick it up a notch for each [age] level,” Desrochers said. “We make it appropriate so the kids aren’t frustrated.”
At Sophisticakes and The Culinary Playground, classes, workshops and birthday parties are designed around kids’ abilities.
“Ultimately, we want them to be successful, and if it’s frustrating for them and it’s not fun, it defeats the purpose,” Chinosi said. “It should be slightly challenging and they should learn something, and they should also have the ability to do something in their comfort zone.”
Frosting a cupcake is one of those challenges. Children in elementary school can use large tipped frosting bags at both locations.
“Sometimes they get frustrated. We do a cake decorating party and that has to be for 10-year-olds and up, and that’s the reason, you need a lot of patience for it,” Chinosi said. “You need to work slowly and thoughtfully. So, depending on the age we really try to customize it.”
The Culinary Playground offers classes for age 4 through high school-aged students, as well as adult cooking classes.
“I get a lot of middle school students,” Chinosi said. “And I get a lot of middle school boys … as they get into the tweens. Actually in my pie classes, it’s mostly boys.”
At Sophisticakes, 9-year-old Angelina even has her own cooking show on the local station, and also online at bakingwithangelina.com.
“I don’t think there’s any special age [for cooking],” Desrochers said. “We definitely have kids that have baked with us for five years now. … They’re just very proud, especially the little kids because when we take away their cupcakes in a tray and bring them to the oven they are so amazed that just a few ingredients that they put into a bowl and mix give them these beautiful cupcakes … you don’t just pull cupcakes out of the air.”