For those of us growing up in the '50s, junior high school home economics courses probably provided our first cooking-class experience. Typically those courses taught (girls only) the making of such mundane things as drop cookies and meat loaf. What a far cry from Le Petit Cordon Bleu, a school in Carmel, Calif., where in a recent class 7- to 11-year-olds created their own lunch of fresh melon salad with honey-yogurt dressing, Cannelloni Con Tacchino e Spinaci and Tarte Tatin.
Some of the techniques and terminology these pint-size chefs learned during the 3 1/2-hour class would probably be unfamiliar to many good, basic cooks. For instance, they discovered chiffonnade was the French term for a technique where spinach leaves were stacked, rolled into a cigar shape and thinly sliced into julienne strips. And Tarte Tatin turned out to be just another name for upside-down apple tart.
The youngsters seemed to get a kick out of learning to pronounce asiago cheese and cannelloni, as well as having a chance to taste many of the ingredients they used in the recipes. Plain yogurt made a better impression on most students after honey was added to create a fruit salad dressing.
Relaxation and Inspiration
These classes are the brainchild of Csaba Ajan, vice president and managing director of On the Park Bar & Grill and the Quail Lodge Resort. Cooking with his daughter, Carla, is Ajan's way of relaxing from the pressures of his profession and also provides inspiration for the programs offered the third Saturday of each month this summer. Students had the option of taking one or all the sessions.
"Children are more sophisticated today--many dine regularly at restaurants and have traveled extensively with their parents," said Ajan. Priced at just $15, the classes are designed to be affordable to as many children as possible.
The programs are taught by an energetic, patient trio--Marc Vandenhove, On the Park Bar & Grill manager; Terry Teplitzky, On the Park Bar & Grill executive chef; and Jane Dineen, sous chef at Covey Restaurant at Quail Lodge. All admitted that hours of planning are required to design classes that offer challenge, yet are not too difficult for the youngsters to master.
Students are instructed to arrive at the On the Park Bar & Grill restaurant promptly at 10 a.m., dressed in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes. Each then dons a pint-size apron and a toque bearing their name and a colored dot designating whether they're a part of the red, yellow or blue team.
As it happened, we were in the area June 18 with a 7-year-old friend willing to participate. Unlike parents who are not permitted to attend, we stayed to observe the class and take photographs.
It began with a tour of the restaurant kitchen and dining areas, followed by a mass hand-washing before beginning preparation of the salad. Each student had a designated work area and their own utensils--a wooden spoon and paring knife with a bright sticker to mark the dull side of the blade.
Following a teacher demonstration, each student peeled and sliced melons into crescents. Then they created their own salad arrangement, garnished with strawberries, dressing and mint sprigs. A punch break on an outdoor terrace followed.
Next the group gathered in the dining room to try their hand at setting tables with the proper linen and table service. The session also provided an opportunity to learn several ways to fold napkins and hold a discussion of proper restaurant etiquette.
Preparing the Cannelloni
Afterward it was back to the workroom to tackle preparation of the cannelloni. Pasta sheets were cut in the desired size and cooked while the turkey-and-spinach filling was prepared. Then everyone had a chance to fill, roll and place the cannelloni in baking pans along with a prepared tomato sauce.
Another beverage break gave everyone a chance to relax before preparation of the dessert. Tarte Tatin required peeling and slicing apples, resulting in the two minor casualties of the day and trips to the kitchen for first aid. Rolling out the crusts, using straight French rolling pins preferred by many professional pastry chefs, turned out to be a lot less hazardous.
Another mass hand washing and it was time for the mini-chefs to enjoy the results of their morning labors. Nobody had any trouble recognizing which was their salad as they reappeared from the kitchen refrigerator.
Next the cannelloni was served to rave reviews, and finally came the still warm Tarte Tatin. One student questioned whether he was being served the tart he'd prepared. "I'm sure, because I checked before turning it out," said Dineen with a wink.
After lunch, parents and friends joined the students as each received a certificate of class completion, complete with photo taken that morning. Afterward all posed for a group photo and received a bag for keeping bread and cookies fresh, filled with recipes, wooden spoon, knife and rolling pin used during class.