Kids in the Kitchen

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Emelia and Thomas McMurray use rolling pins and parchment paper to flatten out their cinnamon and applesauce dough. Photo by Beth Mann

Many adults might not know what pizzelle (traditional Italian waffle cookies) are let alone know how to make them. But Thomas McMurray, 10, does. And a big reason why is because of Southern Season’s cooking classes.

On some Saturday mornings, the large specialty grocery store offers courses that give kids the opportunity to get comfortable in the kitchen.

The second-floor classroom at the back of the store has long black tables filled with all sorts of crafts and food. On the first Saturday in December, four teachers stand ready to instruct six kids. Thomas sits at one of the tables beside his sister, Emelia McMurray, 7, for her first class and his fifth.

The teacher, Stefanie Prokopiou, asks the students to walk down the steps and circle up around the island countertop at the front of the room. Thomas already knows the drill and leads the way.

In front of them, the kids have parchment paper, rolling pins, cookie cutters and a bowl filled with a mixture of applesauce and cinnamon, so they can make ornaments in different shapes: gingerbread men, candy canes or as Bella Corral, 11, did – an elaborate Santa Claus. 

“How many should I do?” asks Emilia.

“As many as you can,” advises Thomas.

Thomas is very methodical, says his mom, Rebecca McMurray. Thomas often helps her in the kitchen or takes on dishes of his own. The Sunday after class, he made pizzelle all by himself.

“The confidence cooking gives him to be able to start it, finish it himself and have a great product is fantastic.” says Rebecca. “[The class] sounded like it would be the perfect fit for him, and he’d get to be with other kids.”

Emilia chats away with cousins Maddie Phillips, 10, and Olivia Jooste, 9, about Taylor Swift, school and what they’re doing tomorrow while Thomas and Bella do their own thing at the gingerbread station.

And while it’s a chance for the kids to learn how to cook, craft and socialize, they also have the chance to be silly when their parents aren’t around.

After Emilia finishes laying out her design for her macaroni snowflake on parchment paper, she walks over to the refreshment corner to fill a clear plastic goblet with grape juice.

“Hey Thomas, I’m definitely old enough to drink wine,” Emilia says with a mischievous smile and a few giggles. “And swallow ice whole!” 

“She’s an old soul, but she’s a comic relief,” Rebecca laughs when told of Emily’s joke. “She thought the goblets reminded her of wine glasses.”

Bella Corral and Thomas McMurray look at their reflection while they make macaroni snowflakes.

And while the kids are giddy, they’re not running around or acting amiss. They’re very focused on the creations in front of them while constantly saying “please” and “thank you” when they need something.

Bari Hobbs, the cooking school manager, says that’s her favorite part of the class – getting to interact with the kids. “You know, you ask them, ‘Are you going to go home and do this?’ and most of them are like, ‘Yeah!’ But some of them are like, ‘We didn’t like that.’ They’re so honest,” she laughs. “It’s so refreshing.”

The cooking school is almost as old as the store, which is 25 years old, and the classes for kids started about eight years ago. The longer Bari works there, the more she realizes how important it is for children to hone in on these culinary skills.

“I think being able to cook for yourself and to be able to step in a kitchen and be comfortable is valuable for anybody. We’re so far away from where our food comes from, how it’s prepared, who prepares it,” Bari says. “In a fast-paced, convenience-based world, we just all need to slow down and stop and concentrate on some of the basics. If you start at a young age, then you’re going to have that your whole life.”  –Hannah Lee  

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Hannah Lee

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