Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Now We're Cooking

My father-in-law bought my 5-year-old son a chef’s jacket for stirring a pot of soup the other day, and now the kid thinks he’s Wolfgang Puck, cooking “masterpiece meals” made from Tinker Toy pieces.

So when the boy came home from school yesterday with news of a career fair later this month, he was erupting with enthusiasm.

“I’m gonna learn how to be a chef!” he howled.

My wife and I were excited, too. We jumped online to see if there was going to be a company representing the culinary arts at the job fair. Sure enough we found one.

“Can I cook dinner tonight?” the boy asked. “And can I use real food, not just Tinker Toys?”

The thought of my son cooking made me nervous. I’m not one for mess, and mess was inevitable with a 5-year-old in the kitchen.

When I cook, I clean the cutting board, the utensils, the measuring cups and the mixing bowls as I use them. If, by slim chance, I spill an ingredient on the counter, I wipe it up right away. Indeed, I can’t handle mess. But since my son was so excited to be a chef and so excited to cook, I couldn’t let him down.

So I called Grandpa and asked if he wanted to co-cook with his grandson.

Grandpa was busy.

Left with no other choice, I told my wife that she’d have to cook with our little chef. She said she was glad to do it -- provided I balance the checkbook. I considered my options carefully.

I put on my chef’s jacket and wrote up a simple scrambled eggs and toast recipe for my son to follow.

The mess began right away as my son cracked the eggs, leaving most of the egg on the counter. The kid also managed to spread butter all over his chef’s jacket, and worse, he got butter all over my chef’s jacket. Shredded cheese ended up on the floor, salt and pepper fell through the cracks between the stove and the counter, and dirty utensils, measuring cups and mixing bowls piled up in the sink.

But I didn’t notice the mess because my son was having so much fun. He counted out the eggs himself, and cracked the eggs without any assistance at all. He even turned on the stove by himself. The only real help I provided was a verbal queue here and there.

My son was so proud to be so self-sufficient in the kitchen. Though I must admit, I eventually took over with the toast because we would’ve been eating butter patties with bread crumb had I not stepped in.

My wife and I enjoyed the meal. Our son raved about it. And then he announced that he was ready to be a chef, asking Mom and Dad for a restaurant. Since my wife was working on the checkbook, I let her break the news to our boy that we weren’t financially able to take such an entrepreneurial leap.

We could, however, afford to sign our son up for kids’ cooking lessons. We also ordered kids’ cooking utensils -- not play tools, but actual cooking utensils that are small and easy for kids to handle. And we bought a chef’s hat to match the boy’s jacket. The stuff would arrive in time for the cooking classes.

Our son continued to cook at home, and my wife and I continued to encourage the dream. The more we worked toward our boy’s career, the more we became obsessed. We bought a little sign to hang in the kitchen proclaiming the space our son’s domain. We even wrote up a career timeline, which had the kid starring in his own cooking show in early 2022. When we got halfway through the restaurant business plan, our son finally burned out.

“I don’t wanna be a chef anymore,” he said. “Can I do something else?”

And just like that, the hopes and dreams of doing son’s homework for the next 13 years in exchange for him doing all the cooking vanished.

-April 2009

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