On Black Friday, while others pushed and shoved their way through crowds of shoppers, my son Mateo and I made our way to the Viking Cooking School in Ridgeland to create a gingerbread house. The class, designed for guardian-child interaction, was full.
ach table held an undecorated gingerbread house, a frosting spatula, a pastry bag, and an assortment of candies and sugars to use on the house. The instructor began by going over all the items and explained the various decorating techniques we could use. There were also stations set up around the room with other items we could use on our house: sticks of gum, gum drops, colored icing and cinnamon red-hot candies.
The first step was to use plain white royal icing as glue to secure the gingerbread house to the cardboard base it would be displayed on. Mateo got right to work, as did the other children and adults in the room. Next, we were given different options for decorating the roof, creating a front lawn using green coconut and creating a Christmas tree using green frosting and an ice cream cone.
Each house started to take form, showcasing the creativity of its designer. There were houses with perfectly neat rows of peppermints glued to the roof, and some houses simply had a flurry of colorful candies organically placed all around. Given his fascination with superheroes and aliens, Mateo created a G.I. Joe fortress outfitted with lasers, an eye scanner on the door, aliens on his coconut lawn and two gingerbread cookie warriors perched in the front yard with their swords drawn ready for battle.
The Viking Cooking School in Ridgeland is helping children and teens learn about and enjoy the process of cooking. Joe Sherman, Viking Culinary Group president and CEO, said he sees the school as helping "bring everyone back to the table."
"When a child learns how to cook, they appreciate more what mom or dad does in the kitchen, and how much love and care is put into the preparation of the meals for the family," he says.
The school offers classes that are tailored for specific demographics, including classes called "Pasta Party for Families," "Teen Cake Decorating and "Teen Culinary Basics." There are even holiday-themed classes for children like "Edible Ornaments" or the "Gingerbread House Workshop."
Classes are entertaining and educational with instructor demonstrations and a hands-on class format. The overall atmosphere encourages interaction between the children as they work in the kitchen. Recipes are kid-friendly in their step-by-step instructions and appeal֖ranging from pizza to cupcakes and gelato Italian ice cream.
This exposure to the culinary arts has the potential to have a lifelong impact on the young chefs attending the classes. "Maybe this is something they will want to do for a living or a hobby in the future," Sherman says.
Sherman suggests starting children off with simple tasks at home like allowing them to select the menu and shopping for ingredients with you. These small tasks will build their confidence. "The last thing you want to do is give them something that they can't do well. Then make it a little bit more challenging every time," Sherman says.
It's important to educate children on kitchen-safety rules. "One of the best things you can learn is knife skills," he says. "The chef's knife is the number one item that a chef should have and the proper use of handling a knife and holding a knife is one of the biggest tips you can give a child. It's all about safety."
Aside from knife skills, Chan Patterson, the school's culinary manager, suggests these kitchen rules and safety tips for children:
• Always ask an adult permission before beginning a project in the kitchen.
• Always wash your hands before working in the kitchen. Also, make sure your work area is clean.
• Read the recipe first. This will help you know if you will need to ask an adult's assistance.
• Ask an adult for help with cooking on the stove top, getting things in and out of the oven, handling hot items, using a sharp knife and using kitchen appliances.
• When given permission to handle hot items, always use large, dry potholders.
• Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
• After coming in contact with raw meats, poultry or eggs, be sure to wash your hands, work surface and any cooking equipment.
• Cook carefully. The kitchen is a great place to have fun, but it is not a placefor horseplay.
• Wipe up any spills as soon as they happen to keep your work space clear.
• Always keep pot and pan handles pointed toward the center of the stove.
• Keep it clean! Make sure you leave everything clean when you are finished.
The Viking Cooking School is located at the Township at Colony Park, 1107 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 115, in Ridgeland. Visit them at http://www.vikingcookingschool.com to register for classes or call 601-898-8345.