• Campbell Whitman

Cooking with Kids : How it Began

For me, the road to opening my kitchen up to the kids was bumpy. There were a lot of stresses & messes and as a professional chef I struggled with the disasters that kept coming, one after the other. But I've decided to share my story of how it all unraveled and ended up making both the adults and the kids feel like they had their own space to thrive.

It started with my step daughters about 7-8 years ago when they were 3 & 4 while we were baking in the kitchen together. I baked a lot more with Jet who was 3 because she still hadn't begun school, but when she turned 4 and went to school, Wednesdays she was free until she turned 5. So, Wednesday was baking day and together we baked. That was easy. It was one sweet child who listened well to what we had to do in order to make something yummy. It was still messy, but easy to manage.


Then my oldest step-daughter Koosje became very interested in participating and it became a weekend challenge making everything even between the 2 girls. Arguments ensued, tears were shed and after Koosje reached for the bag of sugar, scooped a handful out and proceeded to vacuum-suck it into her mouth while her little sisters arm was trapped in between Koosje's body and her own arm, causing the sugar to spill everywhere, let's just say, it became too much for me to deal with.


Watching the kids measure out all of the ingredients and spill them everywhere, or mis-measure, was like nails on a chalkboard for me as a professional chef. So, I gradually stopped baking with them as often. They would ask if they could help with dinners and snack boards and I would often choose to make up an excuse for why it couldn't happen. "Actually, I'm almost finished." "Oh it's really difficult what I am doing, sorry." And, "I should really do it myself because we need to eat on time." were my most common excuses. I used them A LOT! My brain was just too overloaded with life, to actually let another issue come in and break me in half. Parents these days seem to have more responsibility in the way of "constantly having the children around them." Back in the old days, kids all played in their neighborhood streets and a clan of kids from all ages would babysit each other more often than not. Nowadays, the kids are constantly close to home.


I feel like my life is too busy to begin thinking of taking on another "chore" as it felt to me. So, I just kept control of their interactions in the kitchen. Stirring a pot? Great! Placing my cut ingredients in a bowl? No problem! But anything further made me want to explode. I like efficiency, plus a job well-done and I am not ashamed to admit this.


But after I had my first child, I began to notice all 3 yearned to be allowed in and help. They wanted to be of assistance but also get to touch the food and tools themselves. Their eyes were full of interest and love of food. So we began baking again, but it was harder to let all 3 do something evenly without arguments and again.....I wanted to stop. I began asking myself what was the biggest issue? The answer: the measuring and scooping and the spilling of powdered substances all over the place. So, I began pre-measuring the ingredients before they came into my zone. That helped me enter into the messy, messy world of "cooking with kids" much better than diving straight into the deep end. Over time, I have learned to let that go as well, but no matter what it's always easy to find something to complain about, when it comes to kids cooking in a kitchen.


I know how important it is for them to gain this confidence in the kitchen and learn how to properly combine your gluttonous love of food and your health. In fact, as their parent (or step-parent) it's my obligation to teach them these things in life. And as a professional chef, I am the perfect person to do this job. Even if it's not my favorite thing to do....by a long shot...


Once I had my second child, it was, of course more complicated, but somehow the complication of a 4th child made it easier to let it all go. There was too much chaos to really fight it anyway. And eventually, I saw it was time to fully let them in. They needed it! No more pre-measuring, no more standing behind and telling them what to do. I just opened the door and allowed some new, not properly-trained colleagues to enter the scene. And I even, often let them in with carte blanche.


While sitting on the other side of the bar watching them cook (morning, afternoon or night) with a hot tea, champagne or wine, I truly learned how much I preferred having control of everything in my kitchen. I felt the push and pull to get up and help or fix something quite often. It was difficult to let go of. But, watching them thrive, regardless of the messes, mistakes and inedible confections, they were never left unhappy. There was joy even amongst the failures. I must tell you, it really taught me something. And it made it that much easier for me to completely let go.


Nowadays, these kids cook in our kitchen without me in the room and often without me even being in the house. It doesn't bring me any kind of stress while watching them cook or even think about it while in a separate room. I have accepted both the positive with the negative. Upon my return to my domaine, there will most likely be some kind of batter or dough stuck on the faucet handle, powdery substances definitely still linger both high and low and the outside of the mixing bowls (often the insides as well) are not properly washed. But, what the kids gain in skills, self-confidence and good-eating habits completely outweighs it all. And that is pretty incredible progress for a professional chef & recovering kitchen-control freak.