Young Cooks Fire Up the Woks
Want to whet your children’s appetite? Are your young ones budding chefs? Do you want to be off kitchen duty for good? Let young cooks touch, feel, smell and discover more about the food they’re eating at the kids’ cooking classes at The Hutong, located in Jiudaowan Zhongxiang hutong near Beixinqiao subway stop.
The Hutong, created by Australians and longtime Beijingers Stacey Shine and Mark Thirlwall, is known for offering fun courses about Chinese culture for adults, such as photography, painting, Chinese medicine, and tai chi. Less known are the group’s cooking classes for children, taught by Singaporean Anastascia Degoulange, who has been sharing her passion for Western and Asian cuisine with students in different countries for more than 15 years. The mother of three teenagers (and now pregnant with her fourth child), Degoulange knows food just about as well as she knows children. And she manages to teach surprisingly complex dishes to young chefs at the Hutong School.
Kids 4 to 7 can learn to make pasta with meatballs, fruit and jelly salads, puddings and cookies. Children 8 to 12 try their hands at dishes that constitute a bonafide dinner with the family: roasted kaiyang chicken and pineapple rice, fresh greens and apple salad, and coconut pudding with palm sugar syrup. “Kids like to feel things. They like to squish jelly, make cookie shapes, roll meatballs,” says Degoulange.
The most popular dish for the smaller children? Cookies, of course.
Classes are tailored to different age groups and take place in a spacious kitchen that fits at least ten people; for inspiration, ingredients such as tarragon, cayenne pepper, dried shrimp and dried fruits are piled up around the room. Recipes in both Chinese and English are passed out at the beginning of class; this way, little chefs can learn to read recipes and adjust recipes by themselves.
“It is not as simple as just cooking or eating,” says Degoulange. “They learn more than what you might think they learn. They learn what they are eating, a bit of calculation. They learn hygiene – how to clean things and wash their hands.”
A teacher demonstrates cooking at a large wooden table while children watch around the table. When the young cooks start working on their recipes, Degoulange walks around and guides the kids, encouraging them to be independent and finish the dish without asking for too much help. For added motivation, kids compete to be the best chef.
To help kids pay attention during class, Degoulange asks kids to stay in the kitchen and learn to cook without parents. Don’t worry, Mom and Dad – while the kids are busy, you can sip a cup of tea in a room nearby, or check out the Hutong School’s mix of contemporary and traditional Chinese rooms. In addition to the classroom kitchen, there’s a private tearoom, a theater room and rooftop terrace.
Given the potential hazards of fire and sharp tools in the kitchen, safety comes first in class. Degoulange also contacts parents in advance to learn about each child and find out about potential food allergies. Staff also watch kids closely during class to make sure they don’t do anything dangerous, like eating ingredients before the dish is fully cooked.
Cooking classes for kids (RMB 150-180) are held most Saturdays from 10am to noon in October.
1 Jiudaowan Zhongxiang, Dongcheng District (8915 3613)