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Play With Your Food

From observing her cooking class, you might assume Leah Cherry is some kind of children’s cooking fairy. Pretty as a princess (a princess in a ponytail, apron, and clogs) and able to hold the attention of many children at once, she is, in fact, human. For most of her adult life, Leah has worked in farmer-friendly restaurants, summer camps, and even a children’s garden at an elementary school in Waimea, Hawaii. Her current passion, teaching kids to cook, weaves all of these interests together. But hers is no ordinary children’s cooking class, with no clown face made of raisins or house built with nutella and saltines. Leah uses real food, and gets children on the path to creating real meals.

The class begins with introductions. Ten children and Leah’s assistant Elaina take turns holding a wooden spoon and speaking, sharing their name and a favorite fruit. Each child is given a Chef’s Journal and a freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga, perfect for note taking. Then they start cooking.

Step by step, with carefully planned ingredients, and plenty for each child to do, the class first learns to make ranch dressing. Everyone gets to chop some scallions (with scissors), measure ingredients, and shake things together in a Mason jar. Hairy ends of the scallions and other little bits are set aside for the compost pile. While they’re concocting the dressing, Leah asks, “Who here likes salad?” All of the children raise their hands, some enthusiastically, others dutifully. Elaina admits that she does not like tomatoes. “But every year when they’re in season, I taste one to see if I like it. So far, I still don’t like them. But I’m going to keep trying because, well, you never know!” Phew! What a relief to the fake salad lovers that the teacher’s assistant herself doesn’t like tomatoes.

Next the class makes pinwheel sandwiches with lavash, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. One little salad lover asks, “Do we have to eat the sandwich?” Leah’s response: “Of course not! But part of cooking is trying new things. Even if you don’t like something that’s in the sandwich, you might like it when it’s all together.” It’s all so reasonable and non-threatening, I can almost imagine one of my kids abandoning his Cheerio-Peanut Butter-Bacon diet child to sample a pinwheel.

Before the class sits down to eat, Leah leads them in cleaning up their work areas, washing their hands, and setting tables with white tablecloths, cloth napkins, and cups of water. Again, there’s plenty for everyone to do and they all participate. With help from the class, Leah offers a helpful review of table manners, and turns on some soothing dinner music. Then they are ready to eat.

The kids eat their pinwheel sandwiches and some salad greens from Baby Greens, picked that morning just a few miles away, with the freshly made ranch dressing. Leah and Elaina lead them in charming dinner conversation. “Who knows where olive oil comes from?” (JAMAICA!) and “Do you know any farmers?” With Leah as their gentle guide, the children are perfectly at ease. She emphasizes things like composting, local produce, and reusable napkins–as well as kindness, politeness, and cleanliness–throughout the class, with a very light touch. Miraculously, no droning martyr appears, as often happens when adults who care about these issues address an audience of children.

After eating, Leah and Elaina lead a craft project, teaching the children to decoupage a glass jar. The kids are encouraged to use it as a vase for their dining table, a pencil cup, or to store dried beans. In another class, children decorated cloth napkins to with paints and potato stamps. Leah’s projects are always environmentally friendly, and are lasting mementos of the good times they had in class. The kids also leave with their Chef’s Journals–some filled with notes by the end of the class–and copies of the recipes used that day.

Leah looks forward to offering more cooking classes this fall, and wants to incorporate more “grandparent skills” into her course catalog. Sewing, woodworking, making natural cleaning products, and preserving fruits and vegetables are all on her mind for future classes. This summer Leah will be teaching two food-related craft classes at Kreatelier: on Saturday July 30th, making a reusable lunch bag, and on Saturday August 27th, making a chef’s apron. These classes will be held from 9:30 AM – Noon. Registration well in advance is recommended.

The details:

To get on Leah Cherry’s newsletter list, contact emmalinedesigns@gmail.com
Cooking classes for kids ages 6-8 and 9-11, $30 per 2-hour session


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