Interview: Mardi Michels author, In the French Kitchen with Kids
In the past year I've started a new business, taken on a ton of freelance work, and to top it all off, had a baby. With all that going on, I haven't had much time to keep up the blog- or even to eat, to be honest. That's why it's so fitting that I get back to my Paris Paysanne baby with a post on cooking with kids.
Mardi Michels- founder of the site eat.live.travel.write- has written a new book called In the French Kitchen with Kids. Perfect for francophile families, the cookbook includes tips on cooking with kids and equipping your French kitchen as well as recipes that take you from le petit déjeuner to le dîner.
Mardi was kind enough to respond to my questions about mastering the art of French cooking with kids and why it's important to invite children to enjoy the pleasures of cooking.
Emily Dilling: Can you describe your background with children and cooking and the path that brought you to writing this book?
Mardi Michels: I’ve been teaching cooking in after-school clubs for nearly 10 years. As a full-time elementary school French teacher, I’m also responsible for hosting a club once a week and for a while, I offered technology based clubs (movie making/ photography) but never really found my groove.
I heard Jamie Oliver speak in Toronto in late 2009 about his Food Revolution and the “pass it on” campaign (i.e. teach 3 people a recipe and they teach 3 people the recipe etc…) and felt very strongly that as an educator I needed to do something to help bring back cooking skills and get people eating real food again. I started Les Petits Chefs the following January with 15 boys and it’s just taken off from there.
After a year or so of cooking with the boys myself and posting to my blog, I had interest from people in the food community about coming to work with the boys. We’ve worked with some amazing people from all around Toronto - both in the science lab where I hold the classes and in restaurants. We even have a couple of chefs who have worked with the boys over 10 times in the past 9 years!
I also try to incorporate as much cooking into my French curriculum as I can - my Grade 4s do a research project each year where they research information about French classics foods, eventually cooking and baking the dishes in class, videoing their efforts as they go and then producing a “how to” video. It’s the best!
The book is a mix of all the things I love – teaching French and cooking, French food, language and culture – all in one handy package!
ED: French baking is something that seems overwhelming to a lot of people, and your book suggests taking on that challenge with kids. What would you say to someone who shakes their head in disbelief at the thought of making croissants or financiers with a little one?
MM: I’d say don’t knock something (or say it’s impossible) until you try it (and financiers, for example, really couldn’t be easier!)! I’ve really tried to make the recipes accessible for everyone (kids, kids and their parents, less confident adult cooks and bakers) and I’ve seen some pretty amazing croissants made by 12 year olds! The thing about all French food (not just baking) is that it might look (or sound!) complicated but when you break things down, the ingredients are mostly pantry and fridge staples. The most “complicated” recipes in the book are actually fairly easy to make, they just require a little planning in terms of timing and I’ve got you covered with handy timetables to help you plan backwards from the time you want to eat!
ED: What do you think are some benefits of including kids in the kitchen?
MM: Cooking isn’t just about making and eating food – it’s so much more than that! Sure, there’s knife skills and kitchen etiquette but there’s also reading comprehension, maths, science, cooperation and team work, to name but a few skills that will stand kids in good stead as adults! Kids who cook are more likely to try different and new foods.
ED: Do you have tips on making the experience inviting and engaging for children?
MM: Kids LOVE (the idea of) cooking – their parents, not always so much! ITFKWK includes a lot of tips (both general and specific to the recipes) to help parents involve kids at any level of proficiency in the kitchen. My first suggestion would be for you to let your child choose the recipe they want to make. If a child is excited and wants to eat the end product, that’s really helpful in motivating them to see the recipe through to the end! My other big tip (and it sounds really obvious) is to try to be as organized as you can – read the recipe a couple of times all the way through to check you have all the ingredients and equipment (and time!) necessary and that you understand all the terminology. Do this with your child/ren and you’re setting yourself up for a smooth cooking session that will hopefully make you (all!) want to repeat it again soon!
Makes 24 cakes
, Prep Time: 15 minutes
Unsalted butter fro greasing the pan
1/3 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (50 grams) almond meal
1/3 cup (50 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Icing sugar, for sprinkling
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). If you are using a nonstick mini muffin pan you may not need to butter them, but otherwise generously butter the cups of the pan.
2. Melt the butter either in a small pot on the stovetop or over medium heat or in the microwave for about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
3. Beat the egg whites until frothy with handheld electric beaters on high speed, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, almond meal, flour, and salt.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold them in gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.
6. Add the cooled, melted butter to the batter and use a rubber spatula to gently mix until the butter is completely incorporated.
7. Divde the batter between the cups of the muffin pan. You can do this with a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop or a small spoon. Fill each cup almost to the top.
8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the center is slightly puffed and the edges are golden and slightly crispy and coming away from the pan. There may be cracks on the top. That's totally okay!
9. Remove the financiers from the muffin pan immediately and allow to cool on wire racks.
10. Once they have cooled completely, sprinkle them with icing sugar to serve. These are best eaten the day they are made, although they can keep for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temperature.
is a full-time Francophile, French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of www.eatlivetravelwrite.com - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far.
In her spare time, Mardi teaches French cooking and baking classes in Toronto. Her debut cookbook, In the French kitchen with kids, was released on July 31st 2018 (Appetite by Random House). Read more at: www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/books