Childrens Cooking Classes Arrive at Casa de los Sabores
in Oaxaca, Mexico
to peel fruit for mango smoothies
better way to begin offering childrens cooking classes
than with pizza and mango smoothies. The inaugural childrens
cooking lesson at Chef Pilar Cabreras Casa de los Sabores,
imparted the basics of kitchen safety and hygiene, composting
and recycling, and nutrition, all within a three-hour session.
And at the same time, lead instructor Ninfa Raigosa infused
the morning with helpful food preparation tips that even as
adults we dont always learn early enough in our culinary
lives. But best of all, it took place within the context of
preparing recipes which are fun for children to make --- with
the dreaded green salad snuck in at the end.
Genesis for Offering Childrens Cooking Lessons in
The idea of offering cooking lessons for young boys and girls
came to fruition as a result of two phenomena. Firstly, often
in the course of fielding inquiries for cooking classes from
tourists visiting Oaxaca with their families, Chef Pilar would
be asked whether or not children could attend. Of course age
has always been a factor, but often requests have had to be
rejected so as to ensure that classes proceeded in an orderly
fashion without undue disruption, for the benefit of the mainly
adult aficionados of Oaxacan cuisine.
Secondly, many Oaxacans are at a loss for what to do with
their children once school is out for summer vacation. While
certainly activities abound in Oaxaca, relative to whats
available in larger urban centers, theyre limited. Why
not offer a two-week cooking course in July?
And so this initial class held on May 1, 2010, was intended
as a precursor to initially a summertime cooking course, and
then classes during other holiday times throughout the year.
For tourists traveling with children, timing should be perfect.
And for multiple families traveling together at any time of
the year, this could be just what the pediatrician ordered.
Of course Pilar Cabreras reputation as a national figure
on the Mexican culinary scene has long been established through
her House of Flavors cooking school and downtown
Oaxaca restaurant La Olla, and more recently through her forays
onto the international stage (food festivals in Toronto and
San Antonio, with upcoming dates in Austin and Stratford).
She hand-picked Ninfa Cecilia Raigosa Paras to head up this
new initiative for two reasons. Firstly, Chef Ninfa arrives
with a diversity of experience, including educational training
(at the Rocatti Centro de Estudios Culinarios), in catering
and banquets, at various restaurants, and in specialty bakeries
(i.e. Deli Cupcakes and Dulce Nectar). Secondly, and perhaps
key, is Chefs Ninfas uncanny ability to relate
to children using her amiable personality and warm smile
and just like Pilar, shes bilingual.
The bonus for American and Canadian children is that with
a mixed class of Mexican and foreign visitors, and bilingual
instruction, the kids are bound to learn some basic kitchen
and ingredient words in Spanish, if not through direct teaching,
then certainly through osmosis.
The May 1, 2010, Cooking Class for Children at Casa de
los Sabores, Oaxaca
Chefs Pilar and Ninfa were both at the helm of this frist
class, attended by ten children of varying ages. Most parents
remained on site at the outset, to take photographs and to
obtain first-hand assurance that their children would be comfortable
in a class of predominantly unfamiliar faces.
In this type of learning environment the ice must initially
be broken. Here it was achieved by asking each childs
name and promoting interaction between the children themselves,
and with Ninfa and Pilar. The ingredients for each recipe
were contained in a separate large, round colorful basket.
Who knows why we use yeast? And then to reassure
parents, when we cut these mangos to make the smoothies,
we wont be using sharp knives; but you should always
be extra careful when using knives, and never, ever raise
a knife to head level. Can someone tell me why?
Recipe sheets are distributed. Chef Ninfa goes through each
recipe, pointing to the ingredients in each basket and briefly
explaining how they will be used.
For the pizza dough segment, the group is divided into two
teams, one learning to make the dough from scratch, and the
other about kneading and rolling: Always mix the dry
ingredients first, and use your hands. And for the benefit
of those who had grown up watching their abuelitas making
tortillas: Making pizza dough is similar to making tortillas;
if it starts to stick, use more flour. Hands-on classes
tend to work best, especially so for children.
Okay, anyone want a cookie? Three times in the
course of the lesson, short breaks are encouraged so as to
not overload information intake nor run the risk of boredom
setting in. There are plastic bottles of water over
here, and a couple of marking pens so each of you can write
your name so they dont get mixed up.
The children are given a choice of making large or medium
crusts, by shaping the dough themselves, or choosing from
the several small forms which are provided; hearts, mushrooms,
trees, and squares, triangles, circles. The sauce has been
pre-mixed, but the children are encouraged to choose their
toppings from selections of veggies, sliced meats, and even
fresh basil. Did you know that a mushroom is actually
Now lets all wash our hands again. But lets
not forget to first clean off our work areas well, and put
the organic waste in this bin, and the rest over there. Does
your neighborhood have recycling programs?
Attention everybody please; now while the pizza is in
the oven were going to make the mango smoothies. Im
going to teach you how to peel your mangos, safely, by carefully
cutting four strips through the skin ... just like peeling
a banana. The children are encouraged to use every bit
of pulp, right down to the pit.
Heres the bowl with the mango cut up, and now
were going to add some pineapple, some orange juice,
a bit of yoghurt .... and who knows about linseed and why
we add little bit to the blender as well? A brief discussion
ensures about omegas and energy.
Smoothies are prepared and poured into plastic cups accompanied
by straws and small decorative drink umbrellas. Taste
how sweet it is; and you know, we didnt put in any sugar.
You can make your own smoothies using other kinds of fruit
as well, such as watermelon and cantaloupe, and theyll
taste just as fresh, flavorful and sweet, without any added
sugar. By the way, theres a bowl of strawberries over
there if anyone wants a little snack.
The children are then asked to review their printed recipes
for the salad. Some had actually put check marks beside the
pizza and smoothie ingredients as they were being used. A
lesson ensues about the different types of lettuce, its general
lack of taste, and hence the reason for using dressing: We
always use oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and today were
using balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Has everyone tried this
kind of vinegar? Okay then, well each try a bit. Itll
be a bit sweet.
Is it soya sauce, someone asks. Its
delicious, another pipes in, while a third emphatically
states he doesnt like it.
Vinegar and oil have to be mixed together really well.
See the oil at the top; now watch.
Plates are passed out, and each child is encouraged to create
his own salad by adding pre-cut vegetables and grated cheese
to the organic lettuce. The printed salad recipe sheet concludes
with: Taste, check the seasoning, and serve immediately.
The pizzas then are removed from the oven and allowed to cool;
each child is encouraged to take what he made, as well as
to sample from the larger pizzas. The group sits around the
large rectangular table, indulging in the fruits of their
labor, while chatting and joking with their new-found friends.
Childrens Cooking Classes in Oaxaca Provide Exposure
to International Dishes
The summer, 2010, two week course will present participants
with an opportunity to learn to prepare menus from different
parts of the world, each day represented by the cuisine of
a different country. Subsequent series of classes will likely
follow suit. Groups interested in single lessons will be able
to choose from a selection of international menus, but there
will inevitably be restrictions in terms of dishes requiring
stove-top preparation, out of an abundance of caution. According
to Chef Pilar, childrens safety must remain the
by Alvin Starkman
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Alvin Starkman, together with his wife Arlene, operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com), a unique bed and breakfast experience providing the comfort and service of a downtown Oaxaca hotel, with the quaintness and personal touch of country inn accommodations. Alvin has written over 200 articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, takes tourists to visit the usual sights as well as for more off-the-beaten-track experiences, consults to documentary film companies working in Oaxaca, and together with acclaimed chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo, runs Oaxaca Culinary Tours (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).