The Chef Triumphant

Saturday, 7 March 2009

How a small kid trounced the kitchen in a fine culinary debut

Hallelujah! By Jove, she did it. My seven-year-old daughter can cook. (Someone is looking after me up there; I’m one happy Chez Ella patron!)

Before I tell you how scrumptious our meal was last night, I have to tell you that Ella and I have a “thing”. A teacher/student thing. Put it this way – I could never homeschool her. For some reason, we just don’t “meld” when it comes to instruction. Perhaps it’s our differing styles of teaching/learning – somehow it just doesn’t work and we just end up getting nowhere but the Land of Sheer Frustration.

When Ella debuted in the kitchen last night, I decided I must really try hard to change my teaching style (seeing as though I have lived considerably more decades than her and it really wouldn’t be fair to expect her to change her learning style after only eight years of life nigh – even though this would be handy).

So, when I tied on my apron strings last night, I untied Ella’s. I let her go. I threw her like a cold turkey into the deep end of a very large hypothetical pot. It seemed to work. She occasionally asked the meaning of this or that, but for the most part, she did the whole lot herself. The. Whole. Lot. So so proud. The only serious advice I gave her was on timing (“Berry pots take 30 minutes to cook, so start them first as the pizzas only take 15 minutes” etc). She nodded in agreement and set about her tasks.

First she gathered her supplies. Then she washed her hands, preheated the oven (teensy bit of help there), then prepped a huge glass bowl and used deft little fingertips to mush the butter into the sugar, flour and rolled oats. It smelled divine and that little nose frequently leant into the bowl for a deep sniff and even the odd pinch between the fingers for a taste. She then stirred the caster sugar into the blood red berries and spooned them into pots, then topped them with crumble and slipped them into the warm oven.

Next was the pizzas. The recipe said to slap the pita bread onto the tray so she did this, literally – whack! I opened the can of tomato sauce for her and she swirled it on with the back of a spoon then delegated the cheese-grating to sous-chef Riley (he was delighted). Ella then tore the ham (because the recipe said to tear not cut) and skilfully sliced the pineapple into chunks with a small, sharp knife. She arranged said ingredients on the pizzas then made an executive decision not to use the basil. I instead stood on the sidelines (with one eye flailing wildly to the left to surreptitiously watch her every move) and tore it into pieces for the salad.

The pizzas were slipped into the oven, berry pots checked and bubbling nicely, then it was onto the salad. She washed and spun the leaves until they glistened, plopped them into a bowl, sliced cherry tomatoes neatly then tossed everything together with French dressing and my torn basil. Checking her pizzas, she then dashed to the table and set it, complete with handwritten place cards – Mum, Dad, Ella, Riley.

She centered the salad on the table, filled glasses with water, checked her pizzas then instructed me to remove them from the oven, where they were mouthwateringly melty and intensely fragrant, with little pieces of pink ham curled and twirling upwards, begging to be bitten. One had even developed an air bubble and had risen like a cheesy volcano pie and spilled its guts onto the tray around it – “That one is Dad’s,” she announced before asking me to stab it on her behalf. I obeyed and it hastily sank to join it’s brothers on the tray – maimed but nonetheless delicious.

I did help slip the pizzas from the trays to the plates (with her instructing me which pizza belonged to whom) and she toted them to the table where we all sat in starved anticipation while she removed her apron and slung it over the back of her chair to join us for the feast.

And the results? Absolutely scrumptious. The pizzas were sensational and the Berried Treasure pots, with their golden crusts and tangy bubbling berry liquid swirled with blobs of melting ice cream… just too good to be true.

But the best thing of all? Our praise, our oohs and ahhs and mmms of delight were genuine, and to watch Ella’s face as she ate, with such a serene expression of satisfaction, well – it just made my heart swell.

Clever girl.

(Footnote: Second best thing? She’s going to cook every Saturday night!)

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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