Looking to get your nieces and nephews in the kitchen cooking up some fun? I chatted with Chef Victor Bongo, an award-winning chef for his advice on how to get kids in the kitchen and have a blast doing it. He is an author of two cookbooks and recently opened a restaurant in Naramata, British Columbia called Ambrosia. He is a chef known for loving his uncle time.
What’s the best way to get kids involved in the kitchen?
Put them in charge! Be the assistant and let them be in control. When I work with kids, I tell them, “You are the chef, I am the sous-chef.” They feel good about themselves and they don’t want to let you down. Involve them in the whole process. If you let them pick out the ingredients and bring them home from the store, they are going to be more excited to prepare it and eat it.
What dish should we start with?
Start with crepes! Every kid loves pancakes and when they make crepes they get to flip them. Use a frying pan. They might drop one, but it’s about having fun. Use the opportunity to educate them about healthy fruit fillings. Try bananas, strawberries, blackberries – let them pick. In no time, they will be able to make their own breakfasts.
Another great choice is making pasta from scratch. It’s messy, hands on fun. Do a competition. Kids can be reward-driven. Try a “longest noodle” competition. It’s going to start good conversations and end up linguine or spaghetti. If they are feeling really creative, make ravioli. My rule is ravioli has to have something green in it – like spinach or broccoli.
When can they start?
At ages 5-8, start talking about nutrition with them. Let them help you with simple tasks like washing the fruit and vegetables. From ages 8-12, they can help with cutting and more actual cooking. I work with a summer camp with kids ages 8-12 in the summer and at that age they want to be involved. Seeing the smiles on their faces while the make new food discoveries. Spending time changing their lives is priceless and a great way to give back.
What inspires you to cook?
My mother inspired me. In the Congo, where I’m from, the kitchen was a woman’s domain. That’s one place where a woman had total control and there was no man telling her what to do. In the kitchen was where my mother was happiest, and I always wanted to be around while she cooked. I would sneak into the backyard and cook over the fire. When I came to Canada, I took home economics in school. I always think of my mom happy and cooking and she’s my inspiration. I close my eyes and picture her dancing and singing.
What advice do you have for kids who want to be chefs when they grow up?
Do it for love and passion and not for fame and money. Being a chef doesn’t mean you have to work 16-18 hour days. There are lots of different types of chefs. Above all else, have a mentor. Find someone that’s been there and don’t that to mentor your. I listened to my mentor and that’s why I’m where I am today. My mentor told me to learn to cook from scratch in a fine dining kitchen. Do it because you are passionate for food, not money.
What is your favourite thing to eat?
Mama’s cooking is my favourite. As far as a specific dish, I love African Peanut soup. It’s a recipe passed on from grandmother, to mother, to son.
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