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Little Chefs of Vail learn lifelong culinary skills

CVR Little Chefs DT 10-13-10
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VAIL, Colorado – Everyone wants their kids to learn life skills. Kids in the Little Chefs of Vail program actually do.

It’s an eight-week course under the careful and caring instruction of Shawn Sanders. Kids cook an entree from a different country each week, bringing home enough food for dinner for four people.

So far, they’ve covered Italy and Thailand.



For a couple hours each week, Sanders and her students take over the professional kitchen at The Sebastian Vail (formerly the Vail Plaza Hotel).

Sanders loves cooking and makes the kids love it, too.



“The goal is to make cooking classes as accessible as ski school and soccer for the children in the Vail Valley,” Sanders said.

You’re going to eat forever, and you’re going to cook forever. You should enjoy both, she says.

And with that, she leads the class kids between kindergarten and fifth grade, into the kitchen.



They’re two weeks into the eight-week run, but do not despair.

“We’d like to do this with different classes all winter,” Sanders said.

They made pasta last week, starting with all fresh ingredients and ending by learning to twirl it properly.

They sauteed their vegetables, did whatever it is you do to beef and pork to make a bolognaese sauce.

They’re pretty good cooks. They also pretty good eaters.

“Each week is a different country,” Sanders said. “It was Italy last week, Thailand this week.”

Pad Thai and spring rolls. When they’re done, they’ll eat a little and take some home for dinner.

They have homework. This week, it was to try a new vegetable, and ketchup does not count, no matter what Nancy Reagan says. One kid insisted that the avocado was new territory for her. Albert tried a rutabaga, but wished he’d gone with his first instinct for something that isn’t fed to livestock in the winter time.

“It didn’t really taste like anything,” he told Sanders.

Anyway, they did their homework and got an Italy flag pin to stick on their chef jacket.

Executive Chef Matt Lane wandered through occasionally, on his way to and from other business. Sometimes kids stopped him with a question, which he was happy to answer. But mostly he smiled and kept moving. They’re doing fine.

Heather Gilmartin has two kids in the program, Oliver and Simon.

“They fix their own breakfast and lunch. They even handles knives,” she said.

It should be pointed out that Heather works at Vail Valley Medical Center up the street, although that has not been important so far.

It should also be pointed out that in class, kids use plastic knives with which they can cut about anything but themselves.

Cooking is like classical music. You start with basic ingredients, add a little imagination and the next thing you know, you understand that it’s not what you have, it’s how you give it to people. Mozart started like this. So did the Galloping Gourmet.

Anyone who has ever spent time in a kitchen for anything more than studying the refrigerator door for the pizza delivery number, understands that cooking involves all kinds of skills: Math, reading and comprehension, a little chemistry and the clear understanding that if you can read and follow directions you can do anything.

A 6-year-old was about to pour an entire can of curry paste into his Pad Thai, enough heat to bring a polar ice cap to its knees.

“Let’s read the recipe,” Sanders gently corrected.

He did, got it just right and everyone ate happily ever after.


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