Nurturing Your Young Chef

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Kids are never too young to start helping with food preparation. Image: Public Domain
Kids are never too young to start helping with food preparation. Photo: Public Domain

Most of us here are makers or crafters of one sort or another, whether it’s cosplay, woodworking, knitting, sewing, or something else. But another way of exercising your crafting muscles is through cooking. It’s a convenient hobby, since we have to eat anyway, it’s easy to share with others, and you’re not left with something that sits around the house, taking up room. So when my 12-year-old son started expressing a healthy interest in creation through food, I was pleased. He’s gotten to the point where he is the first to jump up to help when it’s time to cook something. And he needs zero help when it comes to a conventional batch of Toll House Cookies. Much to our waistlines’ chagrin.

At first, he was mostly just interested in making desserts. Cookies were his go-to thing. But over this past summer, we formalized it a bit more, tackling a new food each week. I allowed him to pick anything he wanted with the caveat that half of the recipes had to be non-desserts. Of course, homemade macaroni and cheese was the first non-dessert he chose, but over the course of the summer he also learned how to make soft pretzels, fettuccine Alfredo (okay, it’s sort of like macaroni and cheese, but the method is entirely different), pizza, applesauce muffins, and biscuits. He also made chocolate chip bar cookies, blondies, bread pudding, chocolate pudding from scratch, molten lava cakes, and chocolate eclairs. I was there with him every step of the way, but for most, I made him do the heavy lifting (the exception being the eclairs, which I’d also never made, so it was tricky to direct him—we shared the work instead). I put all of the recipes we made in a book for him, so he has his own copies of what he already knows how to make. And we keep adding to it.

Our baked choux pastry for the eclairs. Photo: Jenny Bristol
Our baked choux pastry for the eclairs. Photo: Jenny Bristol

But, he’s 12. Too young to sign up for any community college classes or other specialized instruction, but old enough to be capable of pretty much anything I throw at him. So where would we go next? We’ve both been devouring The Great British Bake Off. I added “chefing” to his homeschool schedule, and he and I continue to learn more about it together. I’m a decent cook, but don’t love anything but baking, though I can follow a recipe with the best of ’em. But my appreciation for it all increases with his enthusiasm. Our high altitude and dry climate present interesting challenges to some recipes, though, so we’ll both continue to learn as we go.

Other than just making a variety of foods and involving him along the way, I’ve scoured the internet for free cooking classes such as Skillshare’s “The Art of Baking” and my local library for resources such as The Great Courses class “The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts” and the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I’m hoping will teach us the art of several different kinds of bread loaves. That book is like a class in and of itself. It will likely be on my “to purchase” list soon.

Attention to detail is a big part of cooking and baking. Photo: Public Domain
Attention to detail is a big part of cooking and baking. Photo: Public Domain

He and I will also be sitting down with my cookbooks, trying to round out his skills (and mine) with many other types of foods. My son has always been a very picky eater, so this is a perfect opportunity for us to discover more foods that he likes to eat. Perhaps working some pureed vegetables into sauces will add to his basic nutrition, but now that he knows how to cook, it’s harder to hide that kind of thing!

Sure, I’m getting images in my head of my son graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and opening his own bakery/patisserie. But I’m keeping that to myself. At best, he’ll be learning skills now that will help his eventual career. At worst, he’ll be very good at cooking for himself. Sounds like a win in my book, no matter how you slice it.

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5 thoughts on “Nurturing Your Young Chef

  1. I’ve learned a ton from Alton Brown’s Good Eats and his cook books as well as The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook (2000 recipes with a lot of good why we did it this way content), Cook’s Illustrated the Science of Good Cooking is on my to get list.

    1. Thanks for the tips! If his interest continues, we’ll definitely make sure he’s outfitted with quality cookbooks for his library.

      We love Good Eats, and America’s Test Kitchen. So I’ll check out Cook’s Illustrated as well. I’ve seen their magazine but that’s it.

  2. Moving away from the baking, which you seem to have covered, I would highly recommend Kathleen Flinn’s book, The Kitchen Counter Cookibg School for a really great introduction to the mind of a cook and becoming more intuitive in the kitchen. I would also recommend any cook book by Sam Stern a British teen cooking sensation. Lastly, if your tween like eating pickles, they are an awesome project for kids to cook. Our teen even turned his love of pickles into an A+ AP science project. Good Luck!


    With reference to your article I have the pleasure to tell you the history of my grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio, who is the creator of “Fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”) in 1908 in the “trattoria” run by his mother Angelina in Rome, Piazza Rosa (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). This “trattoria” of Piazza Rosa has become the “birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    More specifically, as is well known to many people who love the “fettuccine all’Alfredo”, this famous dish in the world was invented by Alfredo Di Lelio concerned about the lack of appetite of his wife Ines, who was pregnant with my father Armando (born February 26, 1908).
    Alfredo di Lelio opened his restaurant “Alfredo” in 1914 in Rome and in 1943, during the war, he sold the restaurant to others outside his family.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 “Il Vero Alfredo” (“Alfredo di Roma”), whose fame in the world has been strengthened by his nephew Alfredo and that now managed by me, with the famous “gold cutlery” (fork and spoon gold) donated in 1927 by two well-known American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (in gratitude for the hospitality).
    See also the website of “Il Vero Alfredo” .
    I must clarify that other restaurants “Alfredo” in Rome do not belong and are out of my brand “Il Vero Alfredo – Alfredo di Roma”.
    I inform you that the restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo –Alfredo di Roma” is in the registry of “Historic Shops of Excellence” of the City of Rome Capitale.
    Best regards Ines Di Lelio



    Con riferimento al Vostro articolo ho il piacere di raccontarVi la storia di mio nonno Alfredo Di Lelio, inventore delle note “fettuccine all’Alfredo” (“Fettuccine Alfredo”).
    Alfredo Di Lelio, nato nel settembre del 1883 a Roma in Vicolo di Santa Maria in Trastevere, cominciò a lavorare fin da ragazzo nella piccola trattoria aperta da sua madre Angelina in Piazza Rosa, un piccolo slargo (scomparso intorno al 1910) che esisteva prima della costruzione della Galleria Colonna (ora Galleria Sordi).
    Il 1908 fu un anno indimenticabile per Alfredo Di Lelio: nacque, infatti, suo figlio Armando e videro contemporaneamente la luce in tale trattoria di Piazza Rosa le sue “fettuccine”, divenute poi famose in tutto il mondo. Questa trattoria è “the birthplace of fettuccine all’Alfredo”.
    Alfredo Di Lelio inventò le sue “fettuccine” per dare un ricostituente naturale, a base di burro e parmigiano, a sua moglie (e mia nonna) Ines, prostrata in seguito al parto del suo primogenito (mio padre Armando). Il piatto delle “fettuccine” fu un successo familiare prima ancora di diventare il piatto che rese noto e popolare Alfredo Di Lelio, personaggio con “i baffi all’Umberto” ed i calli alle mani a forza di mischiare le sue “fettuccine” davanti ai clienti sempre più numerosi.
    Nel 1914, a seguito della chiusura di detta trattoria per la scomparsa di Piazza Rosa dovuta alla costruzione della Galleria Colonna, Alfredo Di Lelio decise di trasferirsi in un locale in una via del centro di Roma, ove aprì il suo primo ristorante che gestì fino al 1943, per poi cedere l’attività a terzi estranei alla sua famiglia.
    Ma l’assenza dalla scena gastronomica di Alfredo Di Lelio fu del tutto transitoria. Infatti nel 1950 riprese il controllo della sua tradizione familiare ed aprì, insieme al figlio Armando, il ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” (noto all’estero anche come “Alfredo di Roma”) in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 (cfr. il sito web di Il Vero Alfredo).
    Con l’avvio del nuovo ristorante Alfredo Di Lelio ottenne un forte successo di pubblico e di clienti negli anni della “dolce vita”. Successo, che, tuttora, richiama nel ristorante un flusso continuo di turisti da ogni parte del mondo per assaggiare le famose “fettuccine all’Alfredo” al doppio burro da me servite, con l’impegno di continuare nel tempo la tradizione familiare dei miei cari maestri, nonno Alfredo, mio padre Armando e mio fratello Alfredo. In particolare le fettuccine sono servite ai clienti con 2 “posate d’oro”: una forchetta ed un cucchiaio d’oro regalati nel 1927 ad Alfredo dai due noti attori americani M. Pickford e D. Fairbanks (in segno di gratitudine per l’ospitalità).
    Un aneddoto della vita di mio nonno. Alfredo fu un grande amico di Ettore Petrolini, che conobbe nei primi anni del 1900 in un incontro tra ragazzi del quartiere Trastevere (tra cui mio nonno) e ragazzi del Quartiere Monti (tra cui Petrolini). Fu proprio Petrolini che un giorno, già attore famoso, andando a trovare l’amico Alfredo, gli disse che lui era un “attore” della cucina romana nel mondo e gli consigliò di attaccare alle pareti del ristorante le sue foto con i noti personaggi soprattutto dello spettacolo, del cinema e della cultura in genere che erano ospiti di “Alfredo”. Anche ciò fa parte del cuore della bella tradizione di famiglia che continuo a rendere sempre viva con affetto ed entusiasmo.
    Desidero precisare che altri ristoranti “Alfredo” a Roma non appartengono e sono fuori dal mio brand di famiglia.
    Vi informo che il Ristorante “Il Vero Alfredo” è presente nell’Albo dei “Negozi Storici di Eccellenza – sezione Attività Storiche di Eccellenza” del Comune di Roma Capitale.
    Grata per la Vostra attenzione ed ospitalità nel Vostro interessante blog, cordiali saluti
    Ines Di Lelio

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