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Chuck Williams on Cooking with Kids

Chuck Williams on Cooking with Kids
We asked Chuck Williams about how he got started in the kitchen, and what advice he has for beginning cooking with kids.

When did you first start cooking as a child?

I was probably around three or four. My mother worked, so I started cooking at home with my grandmother. She had worked in a restaurant when she was younger, and she just knew how to cook everything. She never used recipes, there were not many recipe books then. Even when baking she didn't need to measure, she would add flour or sugar according to texture or taste. I learned through watching her cook and listening to her instructions.

How often did you cook with her?

I helped her in the kitchen every day. She would cook all three meals each day. They were usually dishes like beans or soups or stews that could cook slowly while she was busy around the house. We had a regimen, Monday was laundry day, Tuesday was ironing day, and so on. Towards the end of the week, and on Saturdays, we would make pies and cakes. On Sundays we would cook special meals, like fried chicken.

Were there any recipes that you made together that stand out?

I liked making pies with her. When she would finish trimming the crust, she would give me the scraps and let me try to make my own pie.

What dishes did you first cook on your own?

I liked to cook eggs. There was less of a variety of foods that we ate regularly. We used to make the basic foods, like mayonnaise, that people buy today. When I was in my teens, my sister and I would prep many of the ingredients for dinner before my mother got home, or we would make the side dishes. So I cooked a lot of potatoes and other vegetables.

What foods did you like to eat as a child?

We ate a lot of fresh produce from the local markets. I especially liked raw vegetables like carrots and celery. I also liked cooked vegetables like turnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes. I didn't like sausage, especially the casing. I was never sure where that came from.

What has changed about the way people cook and eat at home?

Children and adults today eat many more packaged and prepared foods than they used to. Everyone is busier, and they often get home from work later at night and don't have time to cook dinner. It's okay not to make every meal from scratch, but try making time on weekends to cook a meal with the family if you can.

How does learning to cook affect the way kids eat?

Exposing children to a variety of foods at a young age will lead to their liking more foods as they get older. Children will like vegetables if they taste them from an early age and eat them as a snack. If they don't like the taste of something, try cooking it a different way, or adding a little salt or even sugar. When children can cook for themselves, they won't need to rely on prepared foods as much and will eat healthier. You'll find that they will want to eat their own dishes instead of what they can get from the freezer or buy from the store.

What should kids be learning about food and cooking today?

It's important that children learn the basics like using the stove and what temperatures to cook different foods at. If they learn how food cooks, how to fry bacon, or poach an egg, they will find it easy to cook more complicated dishes later on. They should learn to make a salad, cook a pot of beans or rice, then how to combine them with other foods to make great dishes.

How has learning to cook as a child had an impact on your life?

I didn't really know that I was learning to cook, it was just what we did. I was fortunate to have learned some basic techniques of cooking at an early age. I still do not depend on recipes. I cook foods that are in season and available where I live. I also became much more interested in where food comes from and what foods people eat around the world. Curiosity about food led me to experiment in the kitchen. It also played a large role in my travels to other parts of the world and in the products I brought back.

What advice do you have for parents starting to cook with their children?

Every child should be encouraged to learn to cook. If you encourage children to cook, they will take a liking to it. Children will gain confidence the more they cook and will want to learn to cook more and more foods. Children might not like foods prepared the same way or dishes with the same ingredients. Encourage them to try modifying recipes or ingredients to their liking.

What are some basic foods that parents should cook with their children?

Parents should not just follow recipes with their children. It is great to use a favorite recipe when you first begin cooking, so they learn about preparing and adding ingredients, but once children are comfortable cooking basic foods, they won't need to depend on recipes in order to help with the family cooking. If you teach them basic techniques such as boiling pasta, steaming rice, making mashed potatoes or roasting vegetables, they will use them again and again, and learn to adapt the dishes to their own tastes. Making a fruit pie is easy, and once they learn how to make a basic pie crust and prepare the fruit, they will be able to make any type of pie.

What would be a good recipe to get kids started?

An omelette recipe is very simple, and children will use it their entire lives. Once they learn the basic technique that can create their own version, however they like it.