12-year-old Zac Buller’s favorite chef is Michael Symon, one of Food Network’s top-tier Iron Chefs. “He’s spontaneous. His food is good but funky.”
Thanks to Gordon Ramsay, the “bombastic British celebrity chef” and his Food Network brethren, cooking is cool again. And not just for girls anymore either. In fact, according to The Globe and Mail,
Today, no one is forcing the girls to take cooking class at Winnipeg’s Miles Macdonell Collegiate – they have to get in line behind the boys … Look inside [the class] on a given day, and you’ll see boys, who now sometimes outnumber girls in class, busy minding their Thai consommé on the stove.
Chef-turned-teacher Darlyne Brajkovich teaches 30-plus kids from grades 9 through 12, she shows her eager students how to use spices, and make the “five mother sauces,” which are the roots of fine French cuisine. After the first few weeks she moves away from cookbooks all together and encourages her students to experiment. She asserts,
By the time they leave at the end of the semester, they don’t want to eat out of a box.
The final exam is straight from reality TV as well. Students are divided into teams, given random ingredients, and they have two hours to create an original meal, which must also be properly “plated.”
There are similar classes offered in High Schools across Canada, and Brajkovich and teachers like her give full credit to celebrity chefs like Ramsay for making cooking so cool teenagers, and especially boys, race to sign up for classes.
[I]t’s still remarkable that the most traditional class, which generations of cringing girls considered lessons in forced domesticity, could be transformed by innovative schools into a trendy training ground for future dinner duty, with 17-year-old boys boasting about their vinaigrette.
17-year-old Daniel D’Ottavio, who made the decision to become a chef after taking Brajkovich’s classes, says his friends even post pictures of their homemade creations on twitter. Much of the credit for this change in traditional gender roles can also go to parents, who now more than ever divvy up mealtime responsibilities at home. Jeremy Kinnear, an 8th grader at Twelve Mile Coulee says, “In my family, we don’t think it’s fair that one person should have to cook the whole supper or breakfast. My dad teaches me how to make pasta. My mom teaches me how to make cookies. The bread I learned all by myself.”
One of the appeals of cooking class is that, unlike math and English, the answers are not black and white, and there are fewer rules. Cooking is also a good way for students to be creative, and share their creations with classmates, friends, and family. Mikal Sokolowski, a 12th grader at Miles Macdonnell and a member of the school’s Iron Chef Team which competes in citywide cooking competitions says, “There’s a lot of freedom. You can experiment and take risks.”
Along with encouraging creativity, building confidence, and teaching necessary life skills, there are practical benefits as well. Research shows that if a person can learn what to do with the fresh ingredients in the fridge, the health and well being of the entire nation could be affected. In Britain, where obesity is a significant problem, cooking classes have been made mandatory for children between the ages of 11 and 14.
Brajkovich and her colleagues also insist their students learn another important life skill. When you are finished, you do the dishes. Daniel says, “Ms. B is a stickler about this.”