Today was the last day of my extracurricular ‘class’, Cooking for Boys. In the past, I’ve talked about hamburgers, ruined cookies and going to the farmers’ market, but they’ve had five training sessions together, and I’ve let go of more and more control in the course of the six weeks that we’ve met every Monday.
At the start, I was constantly asked very basic questions.
- “How much is a cup?”
- “What’s a teaspoon?”
- “How do you measure a pinch of salt?”
- “Where is the baking soda?”
- “Can we watch a movie?”
By the end, I was being asked much more sophisticated questions about cooking:
- “What’s the rising time for this bread dough?”
- “There’s no buttermilk. What can I substitute for buttermilk?”
- (I didn’t know. Turns out it’s a tablespoon of vinegar in a cup of milk.)
- “The recipe says 45 minutes cooking time, but it looks done now?”
- “What’s the difference in color between overdone and underdone shrimp?”
At the start of this experiment in cooking, I got requests for simple things, like hot dogs and hamburgers. Then we graduated to things like mashed potatoes and Haricots verts (pretty sophisticated for 8th graders, you’d have to say). Last week, we made Real! Genuine! Thin Crust! Pepperoni! Pizza! And that was a real hit, and an eye-opener for everyone:
- “Wait, we made, like — $thirty bucks!? — worth of pizza for like twelve bucks??”
And along the way, everyone learned to appreciate food more.
Today was their final exam. We had someone making hot dogs with melted cheese out of my grill, and some other kids made the best home-made chocolate cake that has ever been made in my kitchen (it’s also the FIRST chocolate cake in my kitchen, but don’t tell them that). And we had a real-live, genuine fettucini alfredo made on my stove for the first time. And a young international student made a dish that is his favorite from his mother’s kitchen… a sort of pork fried rice thing that was delicious and incredibly spicy. I don’t even know what went into it; his mother heard he was in the cooking class and sent him the spice packets from home.
I didn’t measure out a single ingredient.
I did explain a few things in the recipes. I helped cream some butter when one kid’s arm got tired (no electrical tools in my kitchen — except the Cuisinart, and that’s broken). I identified the difference between a starting and a rolling boil, and I ran the double-boiler (which is tricky) to melt some chocolate for the cake.
For today, I didn’t even go on a shopping trip. I just gave the kids some recipes and told them the ingredients were PROBABLY in the kitchen. And they had to search, and double-check that they were. Only one kid changed his recipe; the others decided to go without a couple of ingredients, and were sufficiently satisfied with the results that I don’t worry about it.
But the most important part of the day came in the form of an email from my colleague. She wrote to me to apologize; we share a classroom, and she’d used some of my supplies:
Due to poor planning on my part, I had to borrow a pile of cardstock from you. I will replace it as soon as I can.
I wrote back:
A classroom without supplies or materials is like a kitchen with an
empty pantry and no cookware – Useless. What’s mine is yours.
And it’s true. Every school in America and the world should have a kitchen where real food is prepared by a trained cook supervising teams of students who work for several weeks together — to learn to cook, to be on a team of cooks, to manage a kitchen, to handle and test ingredients, and serve food to their classmates. They should get school credit for it, and they should be applauded for having the know-how.
And yeah… every classroom in America should have a well-stocked supply closet of construction materials. We shouldn’t have to apologize for ‘raiding the pantry’. We should be DEMANDING that our classrooms be stocked with more than just endless reams of useless workbooks.
You want a test? I’ll give you a test — ten kids used a small and unfamiliar kitchen with room for four bodies and attached pantry today to produce a five course meal in an hour and a half. If that’s not a test, I don’t know what is. And not a single No. 2 pencil in sight.