Last Sunday afternoon a group of enthusiastic youngsters and their parents arrived at the Lake House Arts Centre in Takapuna to compete in the regional finals of Kiwi Kids Can Cook. Similar events were also happening in Taranaki, Wanganui and Dunedin this month. They will culminate in the National Finals at the NZ Hospitality Championships at the ASB Showgrounds in the last week of July.
Kiwi Kids Can Cook is a National Culinary Competition organised by the NZ Chefs Association. Any primary school pupil from Year 1-8 may enter. But unlike MasterChef on TV they are not expected to create complicated and spectacular creations.
Instead, the children were asked to choose a favourite recipe i.e. one that they love to cook and eat at home, and to try it out on their family and friends beforehand. It is a challenge but it is also supposed to be fun rather than a nerve-racking stressful performance.
Kiwi Kids Can Cook started 10 years ago as a small annual event in Northland. It has spread to other centres and is well on the way to grow into an even bigger nationwide competition. It would make a great TV show!
When it was time to start the first team of four, kitted out in red aprons and tall chef hats had a few moments to set out their dishes and ingredients. After that, they had exactly 30 minutes to create their recipe.
Chef Grant Kitchen, from the Lake House Arts Centre Cafe, looking decidedly avuncular, was the MC and time keeper. Two other chefs from the NZ Chefs Association had also generously volunteered their time to mentor and support the contestants. They circulated making encouraging comments, giving a few hints about techniques and made sure everything was done safely.
I was amazed how young some of the competitors were. They included some six-year-olds but these little ones stirred and chopped and cooked their food as competently as the older children.
There must have been lots of practising at home or at school because their timing was perfect and they had all plated up their dish when the time was up.
A wide variety of dishes was brought to the front table for judging, all kid-friendly recipes such as pancakes (a favourite with several competitors) curried chicken, hamburgers and brownies.
The three chefs had a serious tasting followed by a short conference at the back of the room. Each child’s efforts were acknowledged in a really positive way before the winners were announced.
The atmosphere in the room was surprisingly relaxed. The parents had enjoyed the competition as much as the kids and were proud of their efforts. They were really appreciative that this competition was being held and that their children could take part in it.
The whole idea behind Kiwi Kids Can Cook is to make children feel excited about cooking healthy meals at home and to bring families together around the table at mealtimes.
I can’t help thinking how delighted Dame Alison Holst, the Grandmother of New Zealand Home Cooking would have been to see these budding little chefs in action.
What she wanted more than anything was to see families cooking healthy meals from scratch and it concerned her greatly that this was not happening in many families. She would have loved the unpretentious honest food that these children had cooked, not too time consuming but with an individual twist and nicely presented. Just like the recipes she wrote in her more than 75 popular cookbooks.
It was a great afternoon and I felt privileged to have been invited. Just as well I had made soup from scratch the day before. After such heart-warming efforts by these young cooks I would have felt guilty if I had picked up a take-away on the way home!
By Lyn Potter