In our tried-and-tested class reviews, young cooks are taught new tricks, from lamb koftas to Easter brownies, at baking and meal-making courses that are creative – and less chaotic than you might expect...
'Real cooking for kids' at Gluts & Gluttony, Oxfordshire
As a city-dwelling working parent, I often worry about my six-year-old son’s connection to food. I’m a good cook and Ethan has a varied palate (spaghetti with meatballs and broccoli are current favourites), but I know there is too much processed convenience food in the mix.
So an afternoon children’s cooking course run by Kathy Slack (the Cotswolds-based cook and writer behind the Gluts & Gluttony blog, cookery classes and supper clubs) sounded like a fun way to reinforce his interest in healthy dishes.
Our class was held at Kathy’s gorgeous cottage just outside Oxford. A very excited Ethan and his two best friends, William and Dylan, brought along their sous-chefs (me and William’s mother, Elaine).
Kathy greeted us with a jug of home-made rhubarb pop, which we drank while she explained the concepts of the class: pick, cook, eat, grow again.
Ethan said: 'Mum, please can you use all my herbs and rhubarb that Kathy gave me the next time you cook dinner? Promise me you’ll cook it all!’
Glasses drained, we were straight out into the garden, where she grows fruit and herbs to supplement vegetables she produces on a patch of a neighbouring farmer’s land. The boys were presented with a trug of vegetables and asked to identify them. Cue a little mum shame: among cabbages thought to be lettuces and radishes mistaken for tomatoes, 'onion’ was the only right answer.
They learnt quickly, though, benefitting hugely from seeing the produce as it came out of the ground. 'What grows together, goes together’ was our mantra for the day.
Back inside, we made four things from scratch: lamb koftas, flatbread wraps, beetroot and butter-bean hummus, and chocolate fridge cake. As we mixed, blitzed and rolled, Kathy involved the boys enough for them to feel ownership over what they made, while keeping things moving to hold their attention (no mean feat with such an energetic trio).
When we sat down to taste the fruits of our labour, the boys were hands-on again, assembling their own wraps, trying more green things than usual, and learning not to load too much into each flatbread – a great way to show how eating can be a social exercise, not just a perfunctory refuelling task. We laughed non-stop.
Before leaving, the boys each planted a tray of pea-shoot seeds to take home – another tactile, long-lasting experience – and I could almost hear a whisper of Circle of Life on the wind. These are children who are used to their iPads and TV – to see them outside, and so keen to grow and cook, was a joy.
We had a blast, and it wasn’t only the kids who were inspired by Kathy’s teaching. I’ll be whizzing up beetroot hummus and knocking out quick flatbreads from now on – and asking Ethan to plan the menu.
— Karin Rees
Pizza making at Jamie Oliver Cookery School, London
Like most 10-year-olds raised on a diet of Bake Off and Junior MasterChef, my daughter, Ava, is something of an aspiring chef. Sadly, we rarely cook together.
Lack of time and, on my part, a control-freak tendency to grab the bowl whenever she’s struggling, mean she’s usually relegated to the role of spectator.
A lesson at The Jamie Oliver Cookery School seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to improve her skills without meddling Mum getting in the way.
Ava said: 'It was great,’ adding, somewhat guilt-inducingly, 'I really enjoyed doing all of it myself’
Based in what was formerly the private dining room of Jamie’s Italian at Westfield shopping centre, west London, the school teaches a mix of nutritional information and technique to adults and – on this particular Sunday afternoon – half a dozen apron-wearing eight- to 14-year-olds.
With a combination of demonstrations and chat – peppered with motivational mottos like, 'The secret ingredient when making food is a little bit of love’ – chef Tom Walker explained the secrets of pizza making in three stages: creating the dough, shaping the base, and making and adding the toppings.
Ava was fascinated: 'I learnt that yeast is a microorganism that needs to breathe,’ she reported later, 'and peppers are different colours because of their age – green ones are babies and yellow are teenagers!’
Most impressive was the way Tom imparted the (surprisingly complicated) techniques for kneading a pizza base to stretch the gluten. The kids were encouraged to have fun and go off-piste with their base shapes and toppings, creating smiling faces with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and mozzarella, then – once the pizza was cooked – adding rocket for hair.
The session concluded with a communal feast, a proud Ava devouring her creation, after which the children were given an extra ball of dough to practise their new skills at home.
— Bethan Ryder
A Mexican feast at Beverley Glock
Thirteen-year-old Lottie is already a keen cook: she treats us to delicious creations at home, from handmade pasta to cakes, along with sauces and salads (the latest features avocado, smoked salmon and wasabi mayonnaise), and writes about her kitchen experiments on her EatTeen blog.
At Beverley Glock’s 18th-century mill-house in Buckinghamshire, which on Saturday mornings is abuzz with kids aged five to 18, Lottie, pinnied and armed with a spatula, was in her element.
Glock’s Cooking Club courses for children run for 10 weeks and take place in two sessions every weekend: early for teens and later in the morning for younger cooks. In the older group, many of Lottie’s fellow chefs were putting their course towards a Duke of Edinburgh award.
Lottie said: 'I loved the session. We were all chatting away, and Beverley was a fun, interesting teacher – really encouraging. I ate all the tacos before we got home!’
This week’s challenge: chicken tacos with guacamole and a salsa made with cherry tomatoes and sweetcorn – the sort of 'real food’ promoted by Glock across the schedule, which teaches a different sweet or savoury dish each week. It was a lively atmosphere – 10 teens getting to grips with food hygiene and knife skills, and how to handle raw chicken safely.
After mounds of vegetables were chopped, the whole cooking process was undertaken by the students. While Glock kept a close eye on them, they were eager to help each other, learning a menu they could attempt at home with confidence.
And with their tortillas filled and salsas well seasoned, the cooks got to leave with their feasts – if they hadn’t devoured them already.
— Adam Cannon
Biscuit baking and decorating at Gail's
Five-year-old Coco is adamant that she is going to be a baker, as well as a doctor, when she grows up. The daughter of two food photographers and a regular attendee at our shoots, she has certainly seen (and tasted) some amazing cakes and biscuits.
Trying a class at Gail’s Artisan Bakery, then, was a dream come true – not least because she got to go with her best friend and fellow enthusiast, Bea.
Downstairs at the Blackheath branch they met their teacher, Roz Bado (the group’s development baker), and another budding cook, Sophia. All three girls listened closely to Roz’s instructions for making biscuit dough before rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in, chatting together non-stop.
Ingredients were pre-measured, but the bakers did the mixing, rolling and biscuit cutting; we stepped in only occasionally to help warm up chilled dough and keep the pace going. Soon, trays of Easter bunnies, chickens and lambs were ready to bake, and having then watched Roz demonstrate hot cross buns, it wasn’t long before Coco (pictured above, far left), Bea and Sophia were throwing in sultanas and shaping buns themselves (a bonus bake available at some Gail’s branches).
Coco said: 'What was the best thing about the class? I loved everything – are we going back next Saturday?’
Coco loves to decorate, and it’s at this point that the class really proves its parent appeal: at home, it’s hard to resist the urge to control the mess; here, piping bags were wielded with abandon as the edible menagerie disappeared beneath a mass of icing.
Home time came around all too quickly, and the bakers were amazed by what they had achieved. They left with their (delicious) creations beautifully boxed, begging to do it all again.
— Liz Haarala Hamilton
Easter baking at Konditor & cook
As 'quality time’ activities go, baking is just about top of the list for me and my nine-year-old daughter, Ava. The perfect weekend treat for us both, therefore, was a trip to the flagship bakery of Konditor & Cook in Waterloo, where we learnt to make chocolate Easter brownies and 'hot cross scones’ together.
Ava said: 'Mum and I both learnt lots of good techniques, especially how to stop the chocolate from “blooming” (the grey spots in chocolate you sometimes get)’
The aubergine-painted shopfront of the Konditor & Cook Cake School is a magnet for tourists and office workers alike, who drool over the huge celebration cakes displayed in the window. We arrived eager and excited, and the warm scent of breads, tarts and elaborately decorated tray bakes lured us in.
Aprons were handed out by Laure, our tutor, when we joined three more pairs of parent-and-child students who were just as keen to get stuck in. The next hour and a half involved a well-organised, content-packed, chit-chatting mixture of learning, mixing, baking and taste testing (a highlight for both Ava and me, pictured, right).
A lighthearted history lesson explained the origins of the brownie and the scone, and Laure’s demonstrations around the marble-topped table at which we all worked delivered a generous helping of key techniques: how to get a shiny ganache (all down to the position and movement of your stirring spoon); how to avoid a 'bloom’ (the grey dots that develop if chocolate hasn’t been heated properly); how to keep brownies gooey.
We perfected our scone shaping and sugar glazes, had a huge amount of fun, and came away with a big bag of bakes – the smell of which tempted everyone on the Tube. On Ava’s insistence, we headed straight to the shops with our recipe cards to purchase a 'proper’ brownie tin and all the ingredients to use everything we’d learnt at home.
I’d book again in an instant.
— Amy Davies