Nobody is too young to tell dad they love him. Just like nobody is too young to prepare him the perfect steak smothered in homemade herb compound butter -- or to at least help out in the kitchen.
That was just one of the recipes kids from 6 to 15 years old learned to cook at this week’s Kids Camp Dinner For Dad at the H-E-B Central Market on Broadway. Pops is eating good this holiday, as the kids also learned to prepare a wedge salad with bacon and ranch dressing; sauteed green beans with almonds; herb potato cakes; and lemon bars for dessert.
It’s all very fancy, and much more involved than baking cookies or serving dad scrambled eggs in bed. But too difficult for kids?
Not this generation.
“It’s amazing how food-smart they are. When I was their age I didn’t have a clue about food in the kitchen,” admitted Steve Wegner, the cooking school chef at Wednesday’s class.
“Even the ones who aren’t planning to do this as a career, they know a lot about food, and it’s a challenge to teach them about cooking because they already know a lot of the basics and you need to find things to keep them engaged,” he said
So the kids in the Executive Chef class, ages 13 to 15, were learning more than just the basics on how to sauté green beans with butter and garlic. For instance, rules when cooking with a non-stick pan.
“Make sure that when you turn it on, you put your liquid or your fat or whatever you’re cooking in the pan right away,” explained Hannah Smith, the other cooking class instructor. “Otherwise it could ruin your pan over time.”
Once up to heat, the students kicked in their garlic.
Garlic is delicate, Smith explained, and nothing is worse than burnt garlic.
“So don’t let it cook for too long,” she said, making sure the students were giving their pan handle a nice shake to keep the garlic from sticking.
A rich aroma filled the air inside the kitchen as the students fired up their skillets to pan-fry their large porterhouse steaks, seasoned just right for a quick trip on medium-high heat.
The Central Market kitchen on the second floor is an impressive classroom. If the large mirror wasn’t enough to reflect the day’s lessons, the two flatscreen televisions broadcast the instructors’ every move. It’s a familiar way of learning for these young chefs.
“The kids today, with access to the Food Network Channel and Top Chef, believe me, they know quite a bit,” said Joanne Loftus, the administrative assistant for the cooking school.
Even the 6- through 9-year-olds, who cook on Mondays throughout the summer, prepare the exact same meals as the 10- through 12-year-olds, who occupy the kitchen on Tuesdays. How much of the cooking the students actually do varies from class to class, but the recipes always stay the same.
“If you dumb it down too much, they that’s what you’re doing and they don’t appreciate that,” Wegner said. “They at least want to be able to try it or have you help them do it, but they don’t want it all done for them. That’s no fun.”
So they grate the potatoes for the potato cakes while the instructors quickly chop the basil. The students add the ingredients together, form the patties and give them a quick run through the egg wash and panko. They then place the patties on a hot frying pan, carefully placing them down away from themselves to avoid hot oil from splattering on their hands and arms.
After two hours of learning and putting those newly acquired skills to the test, the students get to taste the fruits of their labor. Hopefully, the students will have impressed themselves enough that they will replicate the meal on Sunday.
Just for Dad.
And also because cooking is cool.
“And just like we tell the adults, whatever you learn in class the sooner you go home and do it the more retention you’re going to have,” Wegner said. “If you do it within a couple of days you’re going to remember a lot more.”
Visit the Central Market Cooking School website to register for a wide range of hand-on and educatoinal food classes for children and adults.