When I went to college, I had a great working knowledge of the microwave. I was okay at following directions to bake cookies. Oh, and I could assemble a sandwich – no problem there.
Cook dinner? HA.
A couple years out of school, I was asked to make dinner for some out-of-town guests one night. Skipping the gory details, I’ll cut right to the chase: it was inedible. Embarrassed as hell, I set out to learn to cook.
Fast forward a number of years: I’ve learned to cook reasonably well. A long way from MasterChef status, but well enough that I was asked by a kiddo if I would teach them to cook.
Hm, cooking school?
I start to look up some class options. Got $475 to hire a private chef who will give your kids cook lessons for a week? Me neither. I’m also cheap, so I wasn’t going to pay for a beginner’s curriculum. But, foolishly, I thought I’d look for one anyway.
My basic criteria:
- For a complete beginner
- That complete beginner is between 11 and 18
- Small group size (10 people or less)
- Lesson time kept around 1 hour
- About 10 weeks worth
- FREE (curriculum, not materials)
I know, I know – not asking much, am I? Well, just so you don’t waste 25 hours searching: what I was looking for, it ain’t out there. Well, until now, that is.
I found Home Ec lesson plans published by school systems (which is now called “Family and Consumer Sciences Education”, btw) but they were either too simple (“Let’s make a milkshake!”) or required resources I didn’t have (“Kitchen laboratory time: 2 hours/session, 3 days”).
So what do they need to learn?
I believe learning to cook is parts techniques, part fundamental thinking about food, and a little chemistry thrown into each.
The technique part includes stuff like knife skills and gathering vocabulary. Knowing what a saute is, or a roux, or roasting versus braising. Gathering the fundamentals gives you a reference point when you’re working in a kitchen.
The thinking habits are a little more complicated, but you can start asking with the core question: why is a corndog like a big mac? Answer: because they’re both, essentially, a kind of sandwich. Protein between two layers of starch, and portable. That’s it: the essence of a sandwich. The corndog has the added novelty of being on a stick, but other than that… you get the point.
For me, my views about food and cooking were permanently altered when I found myself deconstructing dishes in my head. Dice ingredients, saute or roast, add a sauce: that’s just about every weeknight casserole, ever. Make my own soup? Let’s see, I guess I would make a base, thin it out with my broth of choice – AH HA. It dawned on me that I really could make a better version at home, and usually for less money. Also, I realized that many, many, many dishes are the product of What Do I Do With These Leftovers thinking. WASTE NOTHING. Cheap, remember?
So, whatever we end up doing, the most important thing I want to impart to my students is a cooking mindset.
The practical bits
I’ve ended up designing a 1 hour lesson, to be taught once a week, and then the students spend the remainder of the week putting their skills into practice. Each week we’ll learn a skill or a concept, and practice by making a dish that we share at the end of the hour. Repeat and eat, 10 weeks.
Here are my notes. Feel free to read through them, but use at your own risk.
- Week 1: Knife skills Recipe: Stir fry chicken and vegetables
- Week 2: Onion and garlic. Recipe: French onion soup and cheesy garlic bread
- Week 3: Saucy! Recipe: Red sauce, white sauce, skillet pasta
- Week 4: The Incredibly Edible Egg Recipe: Cheese souffle
- Week 5: Saute Recipe:
- Week 6: Roast Recipe: Roast vegetables
- Week 7: Boil, simmer, and steam Recipe: Skillet pasta, steamed vegetables
- Week 8: Bake Recipe:The chocolate chip cookie experiment
- Week 9: Recipe:
- Week 10: Recipe: