Friday, July 11, 2014

Someone's in the Kitchen..Hopefully Your Kid!

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As I mentioned in my last post, there were three significant highlights of the United Fresh produce convention last month in Chicago. Meeting my father’s friends, spending time with Kid Chef Eliana and her family, and finally, having the opportunity to listen to veteran produce women candidly talk about their experiences in the industry all combined to make the trip very worthwhile.  

Writing about this part of our trip was fun, because this part of the convention was truly a delight.  But as I got into the details of why I found Eliana’s enthusiasm and expertise inspiring, I realized that to effectively communicate why this was so important to me, I would need to make this post a two part endeavor. Here is the first...

It is interesting how eavesdropping can lead to interesting introductions. Marc (my son) and I stepped outside the Hard Rock Hotel to catch the convention shuttle and noticed another family waiting to go to the same place. In a matter of minutes we learned that they were from New Orleans, and as they interacted I tried to figure out whether it was the mom or dad who had the ‘produce’ connection that brought them to Chicago. What I could see right away is that they were just as ‘normal’ as my own family as they teased and laughed about a million things in about ten minutes.

While it is not a lengthy ride from downtown out to the convention center, it was long enough to learn a little bit more about this merry threesome. Soon I found out that they were not so normal, at least not in the sense that the mom or dad were the ‘produce people’ as I had earlier thought. They were escorting their famous daughter, Kid Chef Eliana, to the convention to do cooking demonstrations for one of their sponsors, IFCO Systems. I knew Marc was enjoying their conversation as much as I because every so often he would glance my way and flash his huge smile.  

Our bus trip to the convention ended, and so did our time with the New Orleans family, but only until the next day. On the trade show floor, after a few of hours of introducing myself to complete strangers and trying to learn some new things about their businesses, I was ready for a mental break. And who should I run into at the IFCO booth but Kid Chef Eliana! She had just completed her first demonstration where she prepared Creole Pasta Primavera. Oh my gosh, it was so delicious! The only thing missing was a glass of Nebiolo.

Not only did Marc and I get to watch her cooking demonstration, but throughout the rest of the day, and then later sharing an amazing few hours together at the wonderful Italian shop and restaurant Eataly, we had a great time being with a family that was as ‘normal’ as our own. In fact, talking about and actually eating different foods with Eliana’s family reminded me of the many experiences my own family has shared around food, especially in the kitchen.

This encounter with our new friends confirmed two important things (I would be so bold as to put them in ‘fact status’) about food, and fresh produce in particular. First, kids will flourish when given the opportunity to do things with food. And second, as they do, their families are first in position to reap the benefits of these culinary adventures.  

So why is this important, and who should take note of this connection between people and produce?

To my first point, which is all I will post now, this is very important because kids doing things with produce has so many positive outcomes that it is difficult to know where to begin. In Eliana’s context I am only speaking about kitchen experiences. Connecting to the produce world can start way earlier, such as choosing what to plant at home, tending the garden (water, weed and pest control) and then harvesting. Kids are so curious and interested in life around them. My experience in the classroom and in raising four of my own kids has often supported my belief that agriculture is truly a natural way to teach and motivate children to be and do amazing things.

Seeing Eliana confidently work away creating her pasta dish, all the while engaging her audiences as she moved through her own recipe, demonstrated so many aspects of how kids can benefit through preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. Her detailed and descriptive dialogue about different aspects of the fresh ingredients showed that her ability to make fine food was not merely about following directions in a recipe. She knows tastes and how combinations of flavors result in different outcomes. These few words do very little to fully describe her culinary knowledge and competence. Visit her website to learn more about this aspiring young chef.

Tim's Peach Cobbler in a Cast Iron Skillet
But back to the big picture.Think about it. We all want our kids to be creative, responsible, articulate, and confident. So if a child decides (which is a skill in and of itself) to make Eliana’s Creole Pasta Primavera, he or she needs to know what ingredients to buy, how much to buy, how to read and/or understand the recipe, and how to follow the directions. During the process, if a problem arises or help is needed, the child has to know what questions and when to ask them. Later, the evaluation process starts. Did this recipe make enough for our family?  Did I allow enough time? Did I like the flavors, or would I add or delete something? Will I make this again? And so on. But so many opportunities to think and do so many things.

All four of my kids cook. When I first started letting my kids help in the kitchen, all I could think was “Wow, Mom was right!  This is crazy! What was I thinking?!” The messes, the mistakes, the tears (mine and theirs,) and the frustration was almost too much. Marc’s first cookbook was Julia Child’s French Cooking, and he decided on Beef Bourguignon. Hours later, many questions, decisions, and so on, he finally finished. (It got so late that we ‘punted’ and had pizza for dinner.) But, reading a footnote in the recipe, Marc discovered that in Julia’s opinion, this recipe was better tasting if eaten the following day! And yes, it was very good the next day!  No leftovers. Tim’s first attempt was peach cobbler in an iron skillet. Yikes….again, endless hours, crazy questions, and AMAZING peach cobbler!

So was it worth it? YES!!

Will my kids be as proficient in the kitchen as Eliana? Ummm, no, not even close. But are they more creative, independent and willing to try now that they have had kitchen time? Most definitely! Besides music lessons, few things have been as beneficial to my children’s learning process as cooking. And most often it has involved fresh fruits and vegetables.  

In my next post I will say a few things about how kids cooking can have far reaching effects on the family life as well.  But for now, get your children in the kitchen!  

If you have similar stories about your own experiences, I want to hear about them! Send them to pamyoung@pamyoung.com

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