One of the largest sacrifices that we in the hospitality industry make is the time away from our families. This is the industry that all people depend upon daily. We work Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, etc. Many cooks, especially those in senior positions, spend more time in their kitchens than their own homes. Now they don’t. One of the positives that I’ve witnessed online since the stay at home orders have become more widespread is the proliferation of food pics and stories of cooks being able to spend time with their families. Now they finally have time to not only spend with their children, but to share the knowledge of their craft with them. I’ve had the fortune of being able to spend a lot of my oldest three childrens’ formative years with them; the fourth, not as much, but they can all cook, even the nine year-old.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first thing we taught the boys to cook was scrambled eggs. they were around eight or nine years old-each-when we let them light the flame and pour the oil and egg. As a cook, I felt that eggs were good start: the egg and its infinite forms and difficulty of mastery are legendary in the culinary world. For those who are unaware, there is a legend that the 100 folds in the classical French chef’s hat (toque) represent the various ways that eggs can be prepared and cooked. While that hasn’t been proven, its symbolism serves us well. There are myriad ways to prepare the egg and it can easily be ruined. I felt that it was a perfect way to instill the importance of technique, timing, and visual cues.
The boys make omelettes now, filled with sauteed veg and various proteins. My third son made his
first baguette just a few days ago. A favorite of the four kids is Asian noodles. Not the prepackaged ones (though, plenty are consumed), but noodles for which they craft their own broths. They’re not making stocks, yet; they’re using bases, but they’re building their own flavor profiles with additional sauces, spices and-my favorite-chili peppers. Cakes, cookies, frostings,concocted seasonings. Last week, my nine year-old discovered that he’s quite adept at making Eggs In a Nest. My oldest is 18, but I’ve yet to teach him about my culinary love…the grill.
I’ve learned several lessons while teaching the boys the things that I have and I believe it’s helped me at work. I may be wrong, but I believe it’s helped me to be a better teacher. One would have to speak to the dozens of cooks that I’ve helped train over the years to verify that. Raising a child takes copious amounts of patience and anxiety, and when one decides to introduce their progeny to knives and fire, the amounts of patience and anxiety multiply exponentially. Truth be told, I began teaching the boys how to cook long before I entered this industry, so I came in with years of experience in:
“Wait, not yet.”
“No, no, no. You don’t walk away from a pan with heating oil.”
“Make sure you hold the bowl close to the pan when you pour that liquid in.”
“Don’t forget to use The Claw; you’ll save your fingertips.”
Full disclosure: on average, my kids have performed better at the eight-to-nine year-old range than some of the full grown adults I’ve tried to teach. No bias, only facts.
As a father, ergo teacher, I’ve never spoken to my kids as most people tend to. I didn’t “goo-goo, gah-gah” them. Of course, I spoke to them in terms that children can understand, but I made sure that our conversations were peppered with polysyllabic words that elicited plenty of what’s that? throughout their youth. Having raised four children, I was well-versed in instruction a the most basic level. I’ve given instructions while eliciting questions from the trainee, while having the recognition of when comprehension simply isn’t present. Indeed, teaching my kids to cook has prepared me to teach in Our collective kitchen. It was all unplanned, but the fact is undeniable.
Now we find ourselves cooped up with our loved ones. I find myself relishing in the current situation. Yes, I am anxious to get back to work. I am one who gets anxious when not being productive, but I can feel my body slowly repairing itself. I have more time to spend reviewing my youngest child’s schoolwork. Now, I am no longer too exhausted to entertain my childrens’ spontaneous culinary notions. Just recently, my youngest expressed a serious desire to make pizza from scratch. Fortunately, my former-cum-future employer contacted me and informed me that they had a scratch pizza kit available for me. My son was under the impression that he would be tossing pizza dough in the air that very evening. He didn’t throw anything, but he learned the pizza basics, as did I.
As much as I understand the notion of enjoying this time to share my craft, I also understand the notion of doing anything except cooking, much less teaching someone else how to do this. At all experience levels, there are those of us for whom this life is merely a means to a financial end; except for the paycheck “that place” can go to hell. Understandable. Our reasons for working here are as various as our personalities. I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to be in the professional kitchen. It might indicate a level of sanity the rest of us may lack. As for me, food and cooking are a mode of my life.
Teaching our children to cook is to teach them a life skill. Teaching them to cook WELL is to provide them with a tool they can use in life, when they enter the workforce. It may just give them a leg up-and possibly a dollar up-as they decide what they’ll do with the next 80 years of their young lives. At the very least, they’ll impress the hell out of their friends and romantic interests. Everybody eats; very few eat well.