Christopher Freeman, and his kids Tatum and Cash, cooking together/photo by Justin Park-Yanovitch

Christopher Freeman began his adult life, as I did, aspiring to be a novelist, and was exactly as successful at it as I was. For money work, he was an academic book editor, a job he found so personally soul-killing, he turned to his love of food. He’s now not just a cook and caterer in D.C., he’s security-cleared to work in the White House and at other State venues, including all the dinners at our Vice President’s residence. (The Washington Post wrote about him a few years ago.)  I was in our capital last month talking schmaltz, and Freeman, in the audience, raised his hand to ask a question not about schmaltz, but rather about Ruhlman’s Twenty. His praise was so genuine and effusive I asked if I could use it to tell others. What I got in return was a guest post that, while it’s extraordinarily self-serving (for me), it increases my pride in the book in thinking that it might encourage or help other parents to teach their kids to cook. I’ve said it often: we change the way America eats by teaching our kids to cook. I believe that our country is a better place when we cook our own food. This is how we do it. —M.R.

by Christopher Freeman

I know how to cook. In my thirteen years as a food industry careerist, caterer, and writer, I’ve come to know an awful lot about gastronomy. I have served the culinary pleasures of two American vice presidents. I have eaten on camera for CNN  When it comes to food and cooking, I’m pretty confident in saying I know my stuff.

But when it came to teaching my own two small children (ages 6 and 8) how to cook, I was flummoxed. Talking about cooking with them was simple. We discussed the importance of hand washing. Proper mise en place. The importance of a correctly sharpened knife. But when it came to actually teaching them how to cook, I didn’t know where to begin. Which of my own vast collection of recipes were simple enough for them to master, I wondered. Which flavor profiles suited their young palates? Which ingredients would both reward and forgive?

I was overwhelmed. I didn’t have a clue.

But what I did have, however, was Ruhlman’s Twenty. As far as cookbooks go, it was an epiphany, a revelation. Because Ruhlman’s Twenty not only teaches us what to cook, it teaches us how. Its recipes teach the twenty foundational techniques of cooking that every cook should master. My kids and I started with something simple. We started with French onion soup:  four hours of sweating and caramelizing onions. Four hours of being together, as a family, in our own kitchen. It was profound. From there, the following weekend, it was on to braising. We braised brisket. We braised lamb. Egg cookery came next. Culinary horizons were broadened. Triumphs abounded. And with every new recipe they tried, with every new technique now under their little belts, I saw that my two children were “getting” cooking in ways all-too-rare these days. I saw that they were not simply learning how to cook, but that they were forming a relationship with food that will likely inform their culinary choices—as cooks, as eaters—their entire lives.

To my knowledge, there is no other cookbook quite like Ruhlman’s Twenty.

It’s genius.

And it pisses me off.

Because Ruhlman thought of it before I did.

Christopher Freeman writes the food blog Manifesto and is active on Twitter as @proletariateats. Many thanks, Christopher, for offering the kind words about my book, but most of all for teaching your kids to cook. —M.R.

Other links you may like:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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14 Wonderful responses to “Twenty: Cooking with Your Kids”

  • B Romans

    caption on photo says “Christopher Freeman, and his kids…children cooking together.”
    Looks like they added some aromats…carrots, onion… how did they cook the children? Recipe, please!

  • Marc B

    Oh no! Everyone run! Copy editing war going to break out! (Or not. we’re largely cooks, we’ll forgive more than most folks.) Oh well, the article is really cool.

  • Michael Villar

    I’ve got a 3 year old and I really don’t let him toy with anything while I’m cooking/baking, but I do let him watch and I let him feel the produce before I start so that he can use his senses and identify with what he will be eating. When I feel he can handle it, we’ll expand his role in the kitchen. While I do not have Twenty, this post gets me a little more jazzed to get a copy. Thanks.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      three’s a little young, but i think even seeing you cooking regularly makes cooking less intimidating.

  • El Roberto

    If I teach my 8 year old to make cocktails for the party like the daughter in Mad Men, does that count?

  • Brookes

    I have a 2.5 year old daughter who frequently assists me in the kitchen. Yes, there is patience involved on my part and CONSTANT oversight, but it is amazing what she can do!

    She can slice a stick of butter and put it in the food processor, crack eggs (though not open them), use the measuring cups/spoons to get ingredients and put them in the bowl. She uses a krinkle cut knife with a handle on top (not the side) to chop things like cheese, fruit and vegetables. And let’s not forget the integral role she play in pressing the food processor button, turning on the stand mixer and stirring by hand!

    Don’t be afraid to let your kids try. Start by assuming they can!

  • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)

    I agree with Brookes – start by assuming they can! I have been teaching boys to cook in after school cooking clubs for the past 4 years and we’ve achieved some amazing things in an hour in a science lab with pretty rudimentary equipment (mostly just on hotplates). I don’t believe that kids need their own cookbooks (so many of them dumb things down for kids when there’s no need) – just a well written recipe, which is why Twenty sounds perfect. For me the challenge is the timing – 60 minutes from the time they arrive in the lab to the time the are hustled out with their tupperware for pickup can be pretty short. But we’ve done all sorts of things – pizza, pasta, molecular dishes, sushi, dumplings. Kids CAN cook, you just have to believe they can and let them try!

  • D in CLE

    Christopher’s post is spot-on. I bought Twenty last weekend (why did I wait so long?), and essentially read it cover-to-cover, all the while thinking that **this** is how I want to teach my kids how to cook: by thinking and creating. So this weekend, we’re making a family outing to the West Side Market and then making Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs. In the spirit of Chapter 1 (THINK), I’m summarizing the recipe and putting the book away so we talk about what and why we are doing each step instead of rotely cooking to the recipe. I’m not sure who is more exited – them or me!

  • Ozzie Chavez

    I have a large family (8 children) and have been teaching them all cooking skills since they were very young. Each one of them has a specialty. It’s been a wonderful experience to hear how each one of them have impressed their college roommates with their food expertise.

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  • Harry

    The issue I have with my kids and cooking is not whether they’re competent to do something, but if I have the extra time for them to help. Teaching and overseeing take time so we’ve concluded that weekday dinner prep isn’t the best time for juvenile help. I’ve learned I have two mindsets: one is “get the food made,” the other is “teach kids to cook.” Best not to confuse the one for the other lest the participants get crotchety. Now if my kids want to cook, we set aside some weekend time.

  • Phineas

    Freeman is right. And I can’t say this loudly or strongly enough: Ruhlman’s Twenty is the best book I’ve ever purchased. It’s not my favorite — I have novels that literally have changed my life.

    But it’s the best — that is, it’s perfectly constructed. It’s beautiful in its presentation (I’ve never seen better photography in a ‘cookbook’) — WHAT is presented and HOW its presented. It’s useful not only with regard to technique, but also with regard to the recipes Mr. Ruhlman included. Measurements in US and Metric (I’m American and I STILL appreciate they did that!)

    It’s quite simply what I imagine in my mind as the book I’d want to construct.

    I bought this simply for that part on getting rosemary into chicken…and my gosh how impressive is the rest?

    It’s perfection. If there’s a better food-related book on this planet, do tell.

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