At a south Delhi neighbourhood Diwali fair recently, there was one festive stall amidst all the customary others that caught everyone’s attention. Manned by five five-year-old girls, it featured a bake sale. It took just under one hour for their 250 baked goodies to be sold out. “The girls baked for two days straight,” says a proud Prerna Sood, mother to Aanya, one of the five little master bakers, “making cookies and cupcakes, and decorating posters for their stall. And they’re already planning their next sale.”
Giggly, pigtailed, this bunch of girls may not have known how to manage their bake sale finances (“In confusion, they kept handing the tenners they were paid for each goodie back to the customers,” chuckles Aanya’s mum), but they knew their business back in the kitchen, working comfortably with cookie cutters, frosting the cakes with flair and dishing out their wares confidently.
Five-year-olds at a Diwali bake sale in Delhi
Turns out nursing a culinary dream isn’t rare in the pre-teen universe these days, as Purvi Shenoy, 11, will tell you. This little chef from Bangalore wants to “own a multi-cuisine restaurant one day, with my best friend Nikita”. In Chennai, budding chef Dhruvi Khandelwal, also 11, makes the most of the baking genes she has inherited from her mother Sofia, and enjoys blogging about escapades in the kitchen. “My husband and I are fitness freaks,” says Sofia. “Dhruvi, I think, picked up on that, and loves to experiment with honey, oats, low-calorie tea cakes and Thai cuisine.”
Delhi Friends Aftab and Aanya shopping for ingredients. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
Even more wow-worthy is how early kids are taking to the ladle. Amaara is only three but is already proving to be mum Mandira Ahuja’s most reliable kitchen aid. “She helps fold in the flour or decorate the cakes,” says Mandira. “She’ll put on her own little apron and feel like a part of the whole process. It ends up becoming a great mother-daughter bonding exercise.” The youngest student in Mumbai-based cookery instructor Ketaki Bhosale’s class, Raunak, is all of three too. “The youngest lot makes very simple sandwiches or cookies,” she explains. Thane-based cookbook author Rajashree Naware reckons teaching them ‘fast food’ works best, because “they like to make things quickly so that they can eat what they’ve made quickly. They’re most interested in putting finishing touches.”
Amidst this happy flurry of activity in many urban kitchens, in more conservative quarters, there are signs of disapproval. “Curiosity about kids cooking may have increased in the past few months, but why bother children with cooking?” wonders south Mumbai cooking instructor Indu Mehta. “They may not even retain what they learn.” Other parents wonder if their boys should really be around pots and pans rather than throwing a ball around in the playground. No doubt then, even as the trend catches on across the globe, its sudden popularity in India is indeed surprising. Indian parents have always been protective about even letting their kids stray too far alone, let alone getting anywhere close to fire, sharp knives or complicated kitchen equipment.
Chennai Renu Jain takes an informal cupcake class in Chennai, where she’s teaching them flower frosting. (Photograph by R.A. Chandroo)
How then did the Indian kitchen turned into a kids’ playground? “Earlier, parents weren’t in favour of their kids cooking. But now when they see Australian kids make flambé#, they feel differently,” says Ketaki, who has been conducting courses for kids since 2006. Agrees Ameeta Wattal, principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi: “Despite the fact that we have a city culture of domestic help-at-hand, Indian parents see how kids on TV are so multi-cultural that they have other international cuisines at the tip of their tongue. This is fuelling the trend. Cooking is an important part of our culture and sensibility, and a marvellous way of connecting with others across countries.”
No wonder then kids of all ages stood in queue for hours at a Delhi venue recently to get their copies of a cookbook signed by celebrity chefs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan of Masterchef Australia fame. Hemakshi Khadaria, 14, and Zobia Salam, 13, who were selected for a cook-off challenge hosted by the duo, gush giddily: “We were so inspired, because we got to learn about different culinary traditions, and picked up techniques and tips from them.” Obviously, television shows like Junior Masterchef and I Can Cook are a big influence, but Marina Charles, who holds cooking classes for kids and adults in Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram, says many parents want their kids to go beyond what these shows portray. “Perhaps the interest was always there, but the opportunities were limited. But now there’s a lot more exposure with the growing trend of eating out, more cuisines being accessible and travelling abroad,” notes Anjali Vohra, who runs the Little Cheflings cooking club in Delhi. Now there are more like her. Mansi Zaveri started the Kids Stop Press parenting blog and organises culinary field trips for kids around Mumbai; the last took a group of kids and moms to a patisserie kitchen. “Cooking is great for eye-hand coordination, to build concentration, while measuring ingredients is like doing math,” says Mansi.
Thiruvananthapuram Aman Nair, with his chicken pizza
Mumbai Ketaki Bhosale teaching her class pies and tarts. (Photograph by Amit Haralkar)
All the fuss aside, could this be just another passing fad? Are these kids likely to fancy an entirely different activity next season? “Many children have been coming to me regularly for the last couple of years, and those who started with cookies and cupcakes have gone on to the next level, cooking main course food,” says Bhatia. “Many of them have already shortlisted the culinary schools they want to go to. So we’re looking at hundreds of young masterchefs in the next few years.” Bhatia helps children learn desserts, quiches, crepes, churros and salads but is careful not to let them near fire, using an induction cooker instead. Chef Manav Sharma, partner, cmyk cafe in Delhi, is equally pleased to see Gen Next kids seeking out new avenues. “The socio-economic structure is changing, and kids are thinking about pursuing careers they’re passionate about, not stick to stereotypes,” he says. More urgently, the little chef brigade tells us, they’re hoping for a desi cook-off TV show. Then they too can offer the world their very own piece de resistance.
Li’l Chef Brigade
My Favourite Recipe
1 cup cut strawberries, 1 cup fresh pureed strawberries, 225 g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 eggs, 225 g softened butter, 225 g castor sugar, three 8-inch shallow cake tins
For the filling
2 eggs, 75 g castor sugar, 1 cup chopped strawberries, 1 cup pureed strawberries, 50 g unsalted butter
For the icing
1 cup of strawberries, pureed, 125 g icing sugar
Heat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line the three tins. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Break eggs into a cup, and add them, along with butter and sugar, to the mixing bowl. Beat it all together well. Stir in the strawberry pieces and the puree. Divide the mixture between the three tins. Bake the cakes for 20 minutes till they come out firm. Turn them on to a wire rack to cool.
To make the filling, break eggs into a heatproof bowl and beat with fork. Add sugar, strawberries and puree. Cut butter into chunks and add. Put two inches of water into a pan and heat till it is just bubbling. Put the bowl into the pan. Stir, as it thickens. After 20 minutes, take off the pan.
Spread half the filling on one of the cakes. Put another cake on top, spread the rest of the curd over that. Put the final cake on top. For the icing, sift icing sugar into a bowl, and mix with pureed strawberry. Spread evenly over cake. Decorate with chopped strawberries.
Why I Love Cooking
Three years ago, I was just a little sapling in the world of food. Back then, when I was eight, things had started getting complicated in school. I no longer had time to goof around. I had to study, study, study...how frustrating is studying at home when you could hear your sibling goof around?
I started getting bored after studies, it was too late or too hot to play. Then I was introduced to books, but a week later, I asked my mother if she could show me more new things...and she called me to the kitchen and told me a lot of things about food.
A nasty foodie grew inside me. The next day mom cooked this lovely ‘Banana Blondie’ which was to die for, and I licked the plate clean. I started baking the very same day and made my first ever banana cake. My mother was always baking, I have no idea how the kitchen was clean when she baked, unlike when I did! After this baking incident, I almost never felt bored. Studies have always blocked my route to baking and cooking, but my Fairy Godmother (my mother) always tells me to balance out both. Baking is very tricky, though, it’s just like a ‘Rocky Road’, you never know how it may turn out, who might like or hate it, sometimes it turns out like an angel and sometimes not. But if you ask me who my inspiration is, it’s never Donna Hay or Justin Bieber, it’s my mother.
—A budding chef, Dhruvi Khandelwal
By Neha Bhatt with Prachi Pinglay-Plumber
Deliciously delightful. That was your cover story (Ladle Happy Chicos, Nov 26). Very encouraging to see small children experimenting in the kitchen and, what’s more, enjoying the experience. Seems like cooking isn’t as mundane a chore as it’s made out to be. However, given that these children are so young, parental supervision and guidance is a must. They need to handle kitchen gadgets and implements with utmost care.
Amrita Muttoo, Srinagar
Another useless piece by Outlook, neither informative nor entertaining. A few rich kids, inspired by Junior Masterchef, want to replicate the experience at home. So?
Venkat, Raritan, US
Jaisa ann, waisa mann, goes a popular saying in Hindi. One hopes therefore these children are practising recipes for an uncontaminated, unbiased and unsullied value system.
Rajneesh Batra, New Delhi
The parents of the kids portrayed here are clearly more interested in making celebrity chefs out of their children than in teaching them necessary culinary skills. They are no different from other aspirational parents who wish to make prodigies of their children.
Ganesh Natrajan, Isere, France
Starting young, these children are sure to spice up our cuisine.
K.C. Kumar, Bangalore
Apropos Ladle Happy Chicos (Nov 26), the TV-fed fad among kids to learn cooking is very welcome. But I’m befuddled that every kid featured in your story cooks cakes, cookies and pastas. Aren’t aloo-puris and paranthas worthy of learning anymore?
For most viewers, Masterchef wasn’t just another cooking competition—it was the birth of something new (Ladle Happy Chicos, Nov 26). It was their food bible, where they learnt words like al dente and caviar. Food has always been my passion, Masterchef made me realise it could also become my occupation. So I started a culinary club.
Another useless piece by outlook which neither informs nor entertains.A few little rich kids learned to cook.. so what? what is wrong with you ? get a life people..did you run out of stories? too many drinks the night before so you have nothing much to print?
The parents of the kids portrayed here are clearly more interested in making celebrity chefs out of their wards than in helping them acquire useful culinary skills that will come in handy later. They seem to be no different from the other parents who want their children to see, do and achieve everything before they turn 16. The future is bleak for Indian kids with such greedy parents.
“Let’s hope that these ‘Children’s Recipes’ would re-inculcate & reinstall the ‘Unsullied, Unbiased, and Uncontaminated’ values in us as it is aptly believed that ‘Jaisa Ann Waisa Mann’.”
What is nice is, no one says a child is particularly beautiful, or that a child is not good looking. It seems, obese children are nice also, to people. That is why people don't feel obesity is not good for children.
In increasingly consumarist society it’s another potential good career in future. So you have new trend kids playing in kitchen so early.
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