Nicole Pisani, formerly of Nopi and now a school chef at Gayhurst Community School in Hackney, answers food questions asked by parents and offers a family-friendly recipe to try out
Dear Nicole, what’s the best way to start cooking with our children?
Cooking with children is the thing I find most rewarding at Gayhurst. The excitement with which they go about it is so innocent. It makes me think that it could benefit chefs all round the world to do something like this—it clearly removes all ego and puts what we do in perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to be the top of our game in the kitchen world so that we forget how much joy there can be in the simple thing: weighing… grating… pizza!
One of the easiest and best ways to start in the kitchen with little children is homemade pizza. It is the perfect mix of weighing, mixing, grating and creating. I always say the toppings are like fairy dust or painting a picture—that this is the part where you get to put yourself in the recipe!
My trick is that within every recipe that I teach to the children, I will try to ensure they learn one new thing, sandwiched between playing with ingredients. For example, when we are making pizza I will explain a little about what yeast is and does—in other words, how we make bread. We have a recipe which has half wholemeal flour and half white. This allows me to explain that brown flour is better for the body. The children learn the skill of weighing and then they get to pick herbs from the garden, put smiley faces as their toppings and generally have fun.
Why are we wearing sunglasses?
Kids being kids, I will often get caught out—when I told them that pizza was from Italy, one little girl corrected me and said it was originally from Greece. Another time I asked the children to bring their sunglasses in as we would be slicing onions (there are now these amazing children’s kitchen knives that are suitable from six years old). At the last minute I changed the lesson to sushi rolling it was only about 20 minutes into the lesson that a brave child asked, “Chef Nicole, why are we wearing sunglasses?”
The kids love rolling out sushi rice—it’s a great skill to learn, and it also gives me a chance to talk to them about where fish comes from and how we should try to eat fish and animals that are treated fairly. They love to cut cucumber in sticks, then after boiling the rice for them and allowing it to cool, I let them scatter it over the nori sheet and roll it up using a bamboo mat.
Of course, some of the children will want to play with the food like plasticine, so I gently bring them back to the central theme: that we are cooking for ourselves and each other. The children get to serve their friends with the food after the cooking lessons and take some home when there is enough. One child took soda bread home and came back with a message that his mum would like the recipe, please.
Read Nicole’s recipe for a family-friendly dish of kamut pizza with ham, cheese and basil.