Chef Todd English has superstar kitchen credentials: He is the creator and owner of Olives, a collection of restaurants with locations from Las Vegas to Tokyo. He makes frequent appearances on TV cooking shows and was even chosen as one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." But at home, English is a down-to-earth family man. "I love cooking," he explains, "so being able to share that experience with my kids is amazing. It's sort of like passing the torch." Here, English talks with Parent & Child about his background and about how you can introduce this rewarding skill to your children.
Parent & Child: How did you first become interested in cooking?
Todd English: It was always a part of our household growing up. My grandmother was from Italy, and I have great memories of watching her and my mother busy in the kitchen. Part of Italian culture is appreciation for fresh, simple ingredients, so my grandmother loved to teach me all about the different foods she was cooking and enlist my help. That knowledge and appreciation really got me hooked on cooking.
P&C: Does your family still influence your cooking?
English: Yes. I always look to my mother for new ideas and inspiration. She is also my greatest champion and constructive critic; if I want an honest opinion of a dish I'm doing at one of my restaurants, I know she'll give it to me. Also, my kids and I always have fun cooking — especially pizzas. It's fun and pretty basic, but the kids can get creative about toppings and incorporate ingredients they like — even if some of their choices seem a little unconventional!
P&C: At what age should parents introduce their children to helping out in the kitchen?
English: There's no specific age, but the younger the better. My kids were watching me in the kitchen before they were talking, but they didn't have the hands-on experience until they were a little older. As soon as your child expresses interest or seems curious, that's a great time to get him or her involved.
P&C: What do you think is the most important idea for parents to pass on to their children about cooking?
English: Let your child know, and show him, that cooking is fun. The first baking project can sometimes be intimidating. Make it easy by choosing a recipe they love, or a family specialty. Then go shopping together for ingredients to build excitement. Ingredients and products that kids can somehow relate to make the experience even better. Finally, set the ingredients and necessary tools out on the counter, and make sure the ingredients, steps, tools, and baking time are kid-friendly — children lose patience easily!
P&C: What if a parent doesn't feel comfortable following an elaborate recipe? Can she still inspire her kids?
English: That is a tough one. Many kids have their first cooking experiences at home, so you shouldn't be shy about experimenting in the kitchen with them. Also, there are lots of great cookbooks and classes that are created specifically for children.
P&C: Cooking together is not just about what comes out of the oven, is it?
English: One of the most important benefits of young children learning to cook is spending quality time with Mom and/or Dad. Oftentimes our schedules become chaotic, and quality family time is lost. Schedule special time with your young ones, put on fun music, and bake something to share together or with the whole family! The youngest ones will be proud when the older siblings or other family members are blown away by [what comes out of the oven].
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