Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder of why I love cooking. And I’ve had a couple of very good reminders this month. It started with an inspirational trip to India, followed swiftly by a crazy and fun four days in the kitchen with kids…
A little Indian inspiration
Firstly, I took up a slightly crazy and last-minute opportunity to go to India for a retreat with a group of entrepreneurs and founders. As well as getting the chance to taste some fantastic food, it was a time to recharge, reconsider and be inspired by other people running impressive and meaningful businesses. It also gave me the time to really think about the things I love – and having the opportunity to experiment with food and cooking is right up there.
As well as helping me refocus on where I want to take my business, the trip provided me with some great flavour inspirations. Of course I sought out some Indian chocolate while I was away: one of the other founders on the trip recommended Mason & Co (thanks Apu!), which happened to be made not far from where I was staying. This led to some impromptu group chocolate tasting and flavour combining with spices, nuts and dried fruit. It turns out that fresh curry leaves with dark chocolate are actually very tasty.
I’ve brought some of these inspirations back home and will be playing around with chocolate and spices over the next few weeks. As one of daily creatives acts for my 2016 creative challenge, I also made paneer for the first time (I managed to pack in quite a few very tasty paneer dishes during my week away). It really is very easy to make and is a great meat alternative in curry. A new recipe will appear very soon featuring paneer and some of the spices I was given as a parting gift from India, so keep an eye out.
If you’d like to know more about my week in India, I’ve also written an article on Medium: What a week in India taught me about the importance of people, purpose and play
Kicking off Kids in the Kitchen
Hot off the heels of this amazing break, I came back to below-freezing temperatures in the UK and straight into four days of working at a fantastic new project called Kids in the Kitchen. Led by expert chef and cookery book author, Valentina Harris, Kids in the Kitchen is all about encouraging children to cook and create. There’s nothing like the energy and excitement of children to deal with any remnants of jet lag.
Cooking with kids is a great reminder of the many things that are fun about food and cooking. Seeing them discover and learn things for the first time is invigorating – and reminds me of my own feelings when I make something new. Being curious and trying new things is an important part of developing creativity and creative thinking: it’s why it’s good for as many people, adults and children, to cook as widely and creatively as possible.
The week also gave me the chance to cook a few things that I haven’t made for a while – scones, soda bread, chocolate salami… I think I might have almost enjoyed some of it as much as the kids!
Why cooking with kids is so rewarding
I want to share just some of my thoughts after Kids in the Kitchen:
- There’s no need to dumb down cooking for children. They are capable of cooking and eating the same food as adults. Each day the ‘older children’ (normally 9-11 year olds) cooked lunch for the small children, plus themselves and all the adults. On the first day this meant catering for over 40 people. They cooked some sophisticated dishes, including meringues, and were willing to give everything a go. And the food was great!
- Getting hands on and involved in the kitchen is fun. Cooking is a great way to engage all the senses and most children have an innate sense of how to do this. They loved getting their hands covered in dough, flour and chocolate (chocolate especially). The kids also inhaled the lovely smells wafting through the kitchen with big sighs of approval. It was a good way to stimulate their appetite and get them excited about what was coming out of the oven.
- Baking can help get younger children excited about cooking. It’s surprisingly fun measuring out ingredients, and getting sifting, rubbing, kneading and stirring. The results from baking are normally pretty tasty too, so baking is a great gateway to other types of cooking and getting kids more interested in food.
- It’s good to experiment. Recipes are an important starting point, but a bit of experimentation ups the fun-stakes significantly. The children created focaccia and pizza during the week, and had the chance to play around and create their own toppings. It meant they could try some different flavours and really let their creativity loose. I could see their faces light up as they described what they’d selected for their personal topping and fillings.
- Food should be social and celebration. Each day we shared lunch together and it was a really important part of the experience of cooking. It was an appropriate way to celebrate the morning of cooking and creating. It’s incredibly satisfying to eat steaming fluffy soda bread that you’ve made the hour before. The kids also has some nice homemade treats to take home and share, making the fun last just that bit longer.
Seeing the way the children interacted with food and their genuine joy of cooking (and eating) was a great boost. It also reminded me why it’s so important for children to learn to cook properly and with confidence. I’m really looking forward to the next Kids in the Kitchen sessions during the Easter break – and I’m secretly hoping there will be some more chocolate salami involved.