Cooking with Kids “Kids Cook French” Clafoutis
Beginning around 6 months of age, I would pop- up my grandson the J-Dude, right onto the pale lime green colored Bumba seat kept set on top of the wooden armed bar stool, then, push the back snugly up against the kitchen island and together, we would cook.
Helping his little fingers scoop measuring spoons of spices into a large bowl, maneuvering the clear purple colored mini shovels stuffed inside the sugar and flour tins, even putting cherry tomatoes onto a serving dish which he gleefully cooperated, very slowly, one little red cherry tomato at a time.
Over these years the J-Dude and I have prepared a number of dishes together, they are not styled for precocious, nor are they designed for participation in a children’s cooking contest they simply reflect a daily experience of fresh foods, a broad variety of flavors based on diverse ingredients and cultural dishes. In other words, in my kitchen we don’t cook: “kid food,” a concept also shared by Claudine Pepin in her cookbook: “Kids Cook French, Les Enfants Cuisinent A La Fancaise.”
Following the dedication to her family, flipping through the first pages, the “Kids Cook French” cookbook includes “A Note for Kids” and “A Note for Parents.” In the Note to Parents page, Claudine, daughter of the internationally renowned, Chef Jacques Pepin, whose illustrations dot each page in a sweet magical watercolor, expresses that upon being approached to write this book as an inspiration for children to cook, her initial thinking was that she could hardly take on such a task. “I don’t cook kid’s food- I just cook good, fresh food,” she writes. Within this page Pepin also shares her belief that children will eat the foods that they are given, suggesting that if good food is provided then this is how their tastes will develop.
I very much agree with Claudine Pepin on these points, and the importance of not disguising foods to make them almost not real, such as noted “pouring processed cheese over them.” It also reminded me too that since a very young age, when we began taking my grandson to restaurants that with the exception of very rare occasions when offered a children’s menu our response has always been, thank you, but he eats’ what we eat, and he does.
Pepin’s points on children’s developing tastes and good eating however, are merely thoughts of the author, an encouragement of sorts, for the real purpose of the book seems to have transitioned as a true family project with members each offering a part while working all together sharing a collection of basic French recipes, written in a clear and succinct format for cooking success among children desiring to prepare and learn dishes in the French style of cooking.
The pale blue and white striped hard cardboard cover resembles the texture style of common children’s books hosting one recipe per open page, the left side in English, the right side in French. The Contents section includes in simple view, To Start, To Continue, On the Side, and To Finish. Near the end of the book lists the seasons, and beneath its heading of winter, spring, summer, and fall provides some dishes well suited to preparations at these designated times of the year. There are also two open lined pages next to each other for the child to perhaps scribble in their own menu lists and notes.
“Kids Cook French,” published by Quarry Books, contains thirty recipes, making it manageable in size, weight, and scale, for a child along with sensible selections of basic good fare including Sauteed White Fish and Secret Sauce, Cauliflower Souffle, Spinach in Bechamel, Sauteed Swiss Chard, Claudine’s Croque Monsieur, even Lamb Chops with Lemon Zest and Herbs of Provence and Cheese Fondue.
Naturally, as with any proper French cookbook, a nice selection of simple desserts delight in the To Finish category, an Almond Cake, Apple Tarts, Crepes, and today’s traditional baked French custard style dessert, prepared by my eight and a half year old grandson, the J-Dude, Clafoutis with frozen black cherries.
Ending the cookbook, just before About the Author, is a photograph of Claudine’s family, her husband, Rollie Wesen, her daughter, Shorey Wesen, and parents, Jacques and Gloria Pepin, capturing the authors philosophy for food that always tied closely with family. Fingering through the pages of these “non-kid food” recipes in “Kids Cook French, Les Enfants Cuisinent A LA Francaise,” seems a touching reminisce for Claudine Pepin, as her father Jacques Pepin turns 80 this year. Reminded of the television series all three of which earned James Beard Awards for this father and daughter PBS series preparing, instructing, and sharing meals together. Claudine has too offered much expertise in both food and wine world communities through television programming, magazines, champagne ambassador, and as a guest instructor among many other credentials.
Having now shared her practical introduction to French food for children, as author Claudine Pepin says, “Food Doesn’t have to be complicated. It needs to be wholesome, nutritious, and preferably well- seasoned. And, it’s always best when shared with those you love.” A big kid thought for even little kid eating.