After running her usual errands, Jyoti Jaiswal returned home one day to find her son Somen frantically scrubbing khichdi off the kitchen walls. This was a few years ago. Somen was 10. He didn’t realise the pressure cooker would burst if he forced it open while on the flame. Jyoti was horrified. “We were very lucky that Somen wasn’t hurt,” she says.
A year later, when her younger son Siddharth decided to experiment with Maggi and eggs, she was worried. He was only seven years old. “But he was so excited that I didn’t feel like discouraging him. Instead, I stood with him in the kitchen,” says Jyoti. After that, each time he wanted to cook, Jyoti made sure someone was with him. “I was always scared he’d cut or burn himself.” But she needn’t have worried. For Siddharth, now 14, cooking came quite naturally. “Now, I can leave the kitchen entirely up to him, when I’m unwell. He’s experimented with different types of pasta, kebabs, omelettes, even dal-chawal and curries,” she adds.
Inspired by MasterChef
Siddharth says he developed an interest in cooking because he likes eating. And TV shows like MasterChef and, more recently, Junior MasterChef only piqued his curiosity further. “I like chicken, paneer and egg, and keep thinking about how I can use these differently. These shows inspire me to try new things with the stuff I like,” he says. “My friends and I are constantly discussing the latest episode of MasterChef and coming up with new experiments to try in the kitchen.”
Like Siddharth, the success of Junior MasterChef Australia has inspired a number of kids to take up cooking as a hobby.
Meghna Trivedi, who conducts cooking classes, says that while kids have always dabbled in cooking, the interest has grown tremendously in the last two years, especially in the finer
aspects of cooking. “Sometimes, parents insist that their child take up cooking classes. But out of every 10 kids, there will be at least three who are really involved in the kitchen,” she says.
For Archana Karthik, who’s never been interested in cooking herself, her six-year-old daughter Aditi’s excitement for baking surprises her. “She goes so far as to research recipes on YouTube, and then ask me to help her make them,” says Archana, a banker by profession.
Meringues and more
Ketaki Bhonsle, a trained chef who also conducts cooking classes for kids, says her students approach her with complicated recipes that they’ve researched and want to try out. “They also ask about each ingredient: for instance, they’re curious about what a frosted egg is and what its replacement can be, or which fish is closest in taste to the Red Snapper.”
While most kid chefs aren’t yet as adept as the prodigies on Junior MasterChef who can cook a Duck-bisque in less than 60 minutes, they are making complex dishes like meringues, kebabs, elaborate cakes and different types of pasta.
Food blogger Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, who holds cooking workshops for kids, adds that children as young as seven have a good understanding of ingredients. “They don’t want commercial mayonnaise, for instance. They know what the real thing is and would much rather make it themselves. These children want to try new things,” she says.
Kids love veggies
Seeing her daughter Shreshta’s interest in MasterChef, Deepa Raghavan decided to throw a ‘cookery party’ this year for her eighth birthday. “I was surprised by how enthusiastically her friends were putting together ingredients like capsicum, corn, carrots and tomatoes. These are normally vegetables that children won’t touch with a bargepole. But they seemed to relish the food they were putting together themselves,” says Deepa, who gave up her banking career to be a hands-on mom.
Ketaki adds that if food is made interesting for kids, they stop being fussy about it: “Essentially, they’re kids. So I try to get them to relate to food. For instance, I tell them that for pink cheeks, they need to eat red vegetables like carrots and tomatoes. And they’re happy to eat these too.” She cites the example of a six-year-old student who brags about how she makes and eats healthy beetroot salads and the like.
What’s surprising, says Ketaki, is that children are very particular about safety too. “Kids as young as nine know exactly how to hold a knife or operate an oven,” she says. “They’re not scared of knives or fire, just very particular about doing things the correct way.”
While most cooking classes don’t let the really young children (ages 5 and 6) operate a stove or an oven, the older kids (ages 8 and above) are first instructed on safety precautions and only then allowed to operate a burner. In her cooking workshops for kids, Rushina only uses induction cooking. “That way, even the pots and pans don’t get too hot,” she says. As far as using knives goes, Rushina makes sure that there’s one adult supervising three or four kids.
Kalpana Trivedi, a marketing consultant who also teaches children as young as four to cook, asks the parent to send a blunt knife to class with the child. “This way, even parents feel safer.”