Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chain of Command in the Family Kitchen

Four years ago, I mused about teaching my children to cook by letting them be the sous chef in the family kitchen. The experiment was short lived. I didn't make it fun, or even pleasant. Maybe the failure was that the kids were too young, or I was too impatient. Or, maybe, in assigning them the role of sous chef, the under-chef or not-boss, I had it all wrong.

My daughters are older now. They're at the point I imagined when I wrote the piece: old enough to be responsible for dinner one night a week. We started the practice this summer, which was good timing as everyone has more time on their hands and it's still light out at 8pm. Each Monday morning they decided on a  dinner menu. I had final edit to ensure it wasn't going to be French Toast or Elbow Pasta with Butter and Garlic Powder. Often they shopped for their menu with me, though not always.

I think the success of the exercise was that they got to be chef. I was the sous chef. I did whatever they wanted me to. My job always included getting the animal protein out of whatever packaging it came in, transferring it to a pan, marinating it, or trimming the fat. The part they liked best: picking a menu they were excited about (including dessert) and then taking all the credit for its success. I was present in the kitchen for the entire prep/cooking period (it wasn't a night off cooking for me entirely). They took the responsibility seriously and I think they learned a lot. And we ate really well.

We fell out of the routine during our summer travels and several weeks passed without a kid-cooked meal. But with the CTU strike we are finding ourselves in need of some weekday structure.  On the kids menu last week: Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, and Fish and Chips with a Pinch House Salad on the side. The practice isn't always confined to a single night. Last night my oldest contributed a wonderful Baby Spinach Salad to my homemade tagliatelle and Ragu Bolognese (check back for those recipes). And tonight the little one is going to make Grilled Salmon Sandwiches with Dill Aioli and Steamed Artichokes. Tomorrow night, my oldest is going to make Fajitas.She hasn't decided yet if she'll make them chicken or steak but they will feature Guacamole and her Chipotle-inspired rice (basmati tossed with fresh cilantro and a bit of fresh lime).

You live. You learn. School or no school.

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