As a parent, my ultimate goal is to create a generation of young people that have the essential life skills to flourish as adults. At the core of these goals is to raise a child with confidence, creativity, Mise En Place (ooh new vocab word!), and a healthy lifestyle. Empowering children in the kitchen is key to breeding these life skills into adulthood.
For my daughter, Samantha Rose, cooking is par for the course in the Taylor Household. My little Sous chef was on the job as soon as she could walk. We had plenty of hands on learning at home: cleaning, chopping, slicing, dicing. She would tear chicken from the bone to add to chicken noodle soup. She was my go-to potato peeler on Thanksgiving. And soon enough we had her at the stove top stirring the pot and flipping pancakes. I never supplied my daughter with an Easy Bake Oven because substitutes do not take the place of hands on learning. I taught her to use the real equipment and never to be afraid.
Because of this culinary education, Sami not only has confidence in the kitchen, but she has a spirited attitude when it comes to trying new things or taking on challenging tasks even in unfamiliar environments.
2. Mise En Place. What is it? And why do we need it?
A kitchen without mise en place will fail. A business without mise en place will fail. Any project, plan, event, task, you name it…WILL FAIL without mise en place. What is this magical ingredient? Organization. Described perfectly by NPR article For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef, mise en place is “The system that makes kitchens go… It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking” literally translating to, “put in place.” Before cooking a single item, a cook will pull out any tools he needs (a sharp knife, mixing bowls, dry towel, honing knife, blender, etc.), pull out the exact ingredients he needs (1 lb of butter at room temperature, 12 grams of salt, etc.), and ensure that he has every single item he needs before he starts the cooking or baking process.
My own grandmother, Ms. Doris Taylor, taught me this concept with one of my favorite dishes: Potato Salad. We prepped by pulling out all the ingredients. Before mixing the ingredients, I had to complete the mise en place…my least favorite part: the potatoes and the onions. Gram was adamant about the size they were cut and she demanded that they were uniform with no big chunks! I also disliked peeling and slicing the hot potatoes for what seemed like hours, but, it had to be done while they were warm or the potatoes would not absorb the acids and flavorings she liked to use! But it was all about the end result, mixing all the ingredients into the biggest Tupperware bowl known to man (I swear she had three in the kitchen cabinet that were the size of a manhole cover) and watching people enjoy the experience of a home cooked meal.
You can show your little ones the same process at home. Before you start cooking, “Do we have all the ingredients we need?”. Go down the list and help them find all items in the pantry. “What about all the tools?” They can find the cheese grater, the rolling pin, oven mitts. “What’s the last thing we do after we cook?” Clean up. Not only does this show our kids that we need to finish a task to completion but I know some adults that don’t know how to wash a damn dish! Let’s end that trend here!
As your children get older the concept of mise en place will develop into a natural sense of organization and preparedness. I promise they’ll thank you later (Samantha sure did)!
Now that your son or daughter has developed a sense of confidence, understands the importance of mise en place and organization, they will take these skills to the next level. There are endless possibilities in the kitchen: spice blends, ethnic fusions, gastronomic explosions ready to pop off. Because of her comfort in the kitchen and her enviable organization skills Samantha started creating her own recipes. She now has her own take on recipes of chili, chicken noodle soup, pound cake, and her own signature dressings and marinades. And creativity doesn’t have to stop at the kitchen, your children will be creative in their writing, their music, their dance, in any industry that has room for a creative mind! But it all starts at home.
If I can’t win you over with the abstract benefits of kids in the kitchen, let’s try something a bit more tangible. Health. Individuals with no cooking skills resort to microwaves, frozen dinners, and boxed foods that are high calorie, laden with unhealthy fats, and have questionable nutritional value. The technology of the microwave and prepackaged meals infiltrated every part of the plate so how do kids learn how to feed themselves?
According to a New York Times series, Cooking with Kids: 5 Reasons You Should Be Doing It, “cooking is a basic life skill that all children should have, whether they are 3 or 13”. By understanding the fundamentals of prepping a simple meal, they avoid unhealthy options of boxed or bagged food. It also generates a feeling of confidence and independence that many of their peers may lack. By starting them at a young age, they become self-sufficient and capable adults.
This is the greatest social experiment that starts with your kids. By bringing our little ones into the heart of our homes we are cementing critical traits into the next generation. We will have adults that are disciplined enough to follow instructions. They will possess confidence in their mastery of a critical life essential. They will develop a constant creativity applicable in and outside the kitchen. And most importantly, combining all these traits, our youngsters will have the ability to nourish themselves with homemade, relatively additive free food, full of love and familial tradition.
Chef Taylor says the greatest way to preserve tradition is through food- Soul Food. When you have this combined with fascination, fellowship, and friendship, these become part of the rich traditions that are sewn into our children and birthed in our kitchens.
Image: Chef Taylor helping young Isaiah Taylor with the finer points of carrot preparation
Photo Credit: Brian McLean / Smirk Studio
Author: Chef Keith Taylor (lucky kid from Nutley, NJ) & Tiffany Joyner (the great storyteller)
Editor: Samantha Taylor (my beautiful daughter)