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  • Chef Lisa

Middle Schoolers make great teachers!

This spring I chartered new SproutChefs territory by creating a cooking class for middle schoolers. Most of my experience has been teaching elementary aged kids, so I was uncertain how this would be received. Since my K-5th grade programs were successful, Darien Parks and Rec let me test out the cooking classes on a different demographic.

At first we were not even sure the class was going to make. Neither I or my program was a part of the middle school culture. At the end of enrollment, only three kids signed up, but that was all I needed to start. The day the classes started, a parent asked if her elementary aged daughter could join us. Her daughter needed high level cooking instruction to prepare for some future cooking competition. She thought this class was better suited for her daughter’s needs. She was accepted, so the class started with four kids.

On the first day of class there were two twelve year old boys, who were good friends, next door neighbors and big foodies. Their knowledge of food was superior to most twelve year olds. There was a twelve year old girl, who was a vegetarian, and came to learn the basics of cooking, and an eight year old girl, who could cook as well as many adults. I was uncertain how this was going to work. It was a risk and a wonderful challenge.

The big difference between the elementary and middle school classes are that the middle school classes meet later to prepare and eat dinner together. They set the table and clean up afterwards. While eating, they plan the next week’s meal.

The elementary kids classes meet right after school and have set recipes. One week they make something savory and the next week something sweet. They make and taste their food and take home the leftovers, if there are any.

The first week of class, the middle schoolers made pasta and tomato sauce from scratch. I provided them with the recipes, equipment and ingredients, and they were in charge of making it happen. I just stood by and watched. They easily pulled it all together and while they ate their dinner, they planned for the next week. Since there was a vegetarian in the group, they had to plan with her needs in mind. The youngest chef was never made to feel anything but an essential part of the team. I just sat back, took notes and gently guided some of their planning.

They had cooking limitations as well. They could only make things that could be cooked in a wok, griddle and or an Instant Pot. No oven. They told me what ingredients to get, and the next week they made crepes with an Italian inspired filling. They could not bake the ricotta, cheese and egg filled crepes in the oven, so they had to improvise. Instead they left out the eggs, filled the crepes with the ricotta and cheese mixture and warmed the crepes in the wok. They poured the tomato sauce over the crepes and served them with fresh cut veggies and garlic bread. I can not take credit for what they did. It was an amazing meal, planned and created by them. I was only their sous chef. Each meal since has been equally good.

Last week while eating their tacos, they wanted to share their ideas for helping me market my future classes. I asked them what they thought about having cooking competitions, and I was completely surprised by their strong objections to competing. They like the class because there is no competition. They enjoy working together to make one meal to share with each other. They also explained that my cooking class was not really a class, and I should make that clearer. Not many middle schoolers want to go to school after school. They went on to tell me that I should tell people that I do not stand up in front of the class and teach to passive learners. I set out everything needed and let the SproutChef’s teach themselves by experimentation. I am there to inspire confidence, give some guidance when needed and answer questions.

After a meal we assess the meal before we leave. We decide what mades the meal good and how we could improved it. Once in a while, we might even have a bland or bad meal, and that’s okay. That is all a part of experimenting and trying new things.

Wow! I think these four kids taught me more during our table conversation this week than a team of marketing experts could have over a long period of time.

I would like to thank my middle schoolers this week for being such great teachers. I learned a lot from you, and I thank you!

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