March 8, 2012 at 1:06 am , by Louise Sloan
“If you speak to me disrespectfully one more time, you will not be allowed to cook for a week,” I told my son in my best dispassionate, Dirty Harry “Go ahead, make my day” voice. His babysitter, who was on the way out the door, shot me a “WTF” look. I was threatening a 5-year-old with the terrible punishment of not being allowed to cook dinner for a week? Were we in Bizarro World?
Um, I guess so. I don’t know—it’s just the way things are these days at my house. My kindergartner has always loved to cook (check out the video of him making pancakes at age 1 and my blog post about his surprisingly good radish soup), but lately he’s become downright obsessed. And more than that, Scott’s suffering from, shall we say, a slight overabundance of self-esteem? It’s like I’ve suddenly become Bill Buford, author of the wonderful memoir Heat, which is about spending a year working in Mario Batali’s kitchen, getting schooled—and yelled at—by the famous chef. Scott, of course, is Batali.
“Most kids my age don’t know how to cook, but I’ve practiced a lot so I can,” he’ll say proudly. “That’s right,” I’ll reply, watching as he expertly cracks and scrambles eggs or slices up some potatoes with a disposable plastic knife and sautées them in olive oil with garlic, fresh herbs and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. (His idea.) But then I’ll come up against his inner Batali. I’ll give him some basic guidance or I’ll hand him an ingredient, and he’ll rebuke me: “Mom. I’M THE CHEF. Chefs don’t have people helping them!” Oh my goodness, the tone! I tell him that real chefs actually DO have lots of people helping them. And that he is not to speak that way to his mother. What I don’t tell him is that real chefs often have the same imperious attitude. They’re just a little older and wield a lot more financial power over their kitchen companions.
Night before last he had a bit of a come-uppance. He wanted to cook and informed me, when I suggested a particular dish, “I don’t use recipes; I just look in the refrigerator and see what’s there.” (Seriously, dude, you’re 5. You could use a little more apprenticeship.) What was there in the fridge was a big bag of mustard greens, and he wanted to make a puréed soup—because blending is super fun. I expressed skepticism, he (politely, this time) told me to back off and I thought, well, let him experiment. So: Mustard greens. Olive oil. Garlic. Chicken stock. And a dash of Adobo seasoning and black pepper. Cook, then purée. We sat down to our soup course, Scott confidently tried a spoonful…and his face fell. “This is terrible!”
It wasn’t the best, for sure. I didn’t mind it, but I’m a pretty committed vegetable-lover. I looked online and found that puréed mustard greens is actually an Indian dish called Sarson Ka Saag, though they cut the mustardy taste by adding spinach. I had seconds of the soup and added a little curry powder. Not bad at all. Scott was still disgusted. Thank goodness—maybe this will lead to a dose of humility. But I praised him for experimenting.
I took the leftover soup to work and tried to have it for lunch yesterday, but I learned something about puréed mustard greens: They must be served at once. If you let the flavors develop in the refrigerator overnight, you’ve got yourself a beautiful bright green soup (see photo) that tastes like someone dumped a half a tin of dry mustard into it. Bracing!
Seriously, what do you do with a 5-year-old chef who doesn’t want to get all his instruction from mom? There aren’t any real cooking classes for his age group. And I’m sure even if I knew a real chef, Scott wouldn’t be allowed in a real restaurant kitchen. I looked online and found that there’s a kids cooking show hosted by 14-year-old twin brothers that’s about to launch, called “What’s Cooking with Mike and Will.” Perfect! (And well done, unlike the cooking videos of a certain slightly younger boy. For Scott’s long and rather under-narrated demonstration of how to cook pizza, which he made last night, click here.Good thing Mike and Will are better at keeping up the patter!)
I can’t wait for Scott to start watching Mike and Will, so he can learn from someone other than me. I know I’m going to be so happy about this obsession in another 5 years, once he has a little more experience and I don’t have to watch him like a hawk. But for now, the disparity between his age and his ambition is quite vexing for both of us, at times.
What category should I put this post in: “Parenting challenges most moms can’t relate to”? Anyone else out there have an obsessive junior chef on their hands?
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