By Rhonda Carrier
If anyone knows what’s what when it comes to child-friendly food, it’s Italians. So what better way to introduce foodie kids to the joys of preparing their own nosh than a cookery lesson at one of London’s best Italian restaurants?
Cucina Caldesi (caldesi.com) in the heart of Marylebone just minutes from Oxford Street hosts children’s and teens' classes in its small cookery school. On a wet August day, we were happy to find refuge in the warm and welcoming kitchen gleaming with polished saucepans, dotted with shining aubergines and other ripe produce, and rich with the smell of baking. Suddenly we were in the heart of Italy.
'My boys and I headed off, bellies full, to Hyde Park, where, growing peckish again, we ate our boxed-up custard tarts as we took shelter from the rain again. The sweet taste of these sticky little yellow tortes was like a blast of Tuscan sunlight in a grey London day.'
Although the class was for non-accompanied kids, I was allowed to stay and observe. Kids were split into pairs, kitted out with transparent aprons, and talked through the basics of dough-making, as the first step on the way to making their own pizza. The explanation given was fairly cursory, but young kids’ concentration (excitement) levels and being what they are, this was perhaps the best option. Most important was getting stuck in, and the kids all seemed to enjoy creating a well or ‘pond’ in their flour into which to add the live yeast, then stirring it up before giving the dough time to rise.
Their next task was to whisk up some double cream with icing sugar for the Italian ice cream, break up some dark-chocolate digestives to stir in, then spoon the result into cupcake cases and top it with a fresh cherry. At this point many of the kids had trouble stopping themselves from scoffing the scrumptious mixture before it was taken away on trays to the freezers.
Next, the pizza dough was returned to be rolled out and embellished with the children’s choice of toppings from amongst mozzarella, salami, cherry tomatoes, basil and olives. The pizzas were then loaded into the ovens and the children filled some puff-pastry cases with custard that had been prepared by the somewhat frosty tutor. [Editor's note: Cucina Caldesi's kids' cookery lessons are now taught by Italian Mamas.]
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the tables were laid and aprons whisked away so that the children could sit down to sample their pizza and ice cream. More time should have been allocated to this, as it was a bit of a rushed affair, with anxious mums peering through the windows and looking at their watches as time overran. But the kids all seemed proud to have prepared their own lunch. My boys and I headed off, bellies full, to Hyde Park, where, growing peckish again, we ate our boxed-up custard tarts as we took shelter from the rain again. The sweet taste of these sticky little yellow tortes was like a blast of Tuscan sunlight in a grey London day.
Other Kids’ and Family Cookery Courses in the UK and Abroad
The Raymond Blanc Cookery School, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
The famous luxury hotel and two-Michelin-starred restaurant (both welcoming children) contains a cookery school hosting Young Chefs lessons for ages 10–12 and 13–16, as well as Adult and Child sessions covering ages 7-12. Kids get to cook the like of pan-fried salmon, fish pie, fresh pesto and a dessert tart.
A ‘family home that welcomes guests’, this quirky child-friendly castle offers bespoke Augill Little Cooks lessons for ages 7-14 (with a minimum group size of two), involving cooking their own lunch and usually also feeding the hens and goats, collecting eggs and picking ingredients from the kitchen garden. Groups of one or two families can also have a lesson.
This quintessentially English country house retreat has a lively cookery school running excellent kids' lessons. Read our review of a stay at Swinton Park including a Young Chefs session.
Dingle Cookery School, County Kerry, Ireland
Amiable Mark Murphy teaches adults and kids alike how to fillet and cook fish they've just reeled in themselves, on the sea-fishing trip that forms the first part of this venue's unforgettable Catch & Cook experience.
This luxurious escape on the wild west coast of Greece offers cookery lessons suitable for adults and kids as part of its program of authentic Messinian experiences. Read our review of a family holiday at the Westin Navarino including a Greek cooking lesson.
Petra Kitchen, Petra, Jordan
The archaeological wonder that is Petra is a must-see with kids, but while you're here, don't miss the chance to learn to cook local cuisine at this friendly spot in town. See our feature 12 Reasons to Take the Kids on an Adventure Holiday in Jordan, including cookery lessons.
Children's cookery courses are part of the kids' club fun at this luxury property on one of the world's most family-friendly islands.
Read our review of a family foodie holiday in Tuscany and see also our feature on the best chocolate museums and attractions around the world, many of them offering kids' or family chocolate-making workshops,