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February 19, 2009

Cooking with your Kids

If the image coming to mind is of a little chap standing on a kitchen chair in a tea towel apron, covered in cookie batter and armed with a rubber spatula…stop right there! At my house, it's always been more like a scene from Top Chef or Hell's Kitchen. When my boys were 10 and 8, I decided it was time to learn knife skills. For Christmas they each got an 8 inch chef knife, (Wusthof of course), a paring knife, a sharpening stone, and a mesh glove. They got all the other crap kids get too, but imagine a kid's joy of digging into his Christmas stocking and finding a nice sharp knife!

(Am I creating a frightening visual here?)

My boys were very excited. At that time I was the Executive Pastry Chef at Ferrum College in Virginia. My kids, like many of the dining services employees' children, were always welcome in the back kitchens and bake shop. Never lost a single kid to a tilt skillet. Needless to say Sam and Mac developed an interest in cooking at early ages.

When we moved back up to Maine, the boys were old enough to get summer jobs. Boothbay is full of them, and it was mostly kitchen work that seemed readily available to teenage boys. Sam found he was okay with the work but would rather be working on the water. Mac was a natural born chef. On his second day of work at a local restaurant, he felt confident enough to take his own knife kit. When the chef reacted as if this 16 year old seemed a bit too full of himself, Mac challenged him to an onion dicing throw down. The makings of a Boothbay Harbor urban legend.

Sam, now 25, is a very talented wood worker, can cook but has no passion for it. Mac on the other hand applied to one college…only one college: The Culinary Institute of America. I said "it's a tough school to get into, apply somewhere else as a back up." He would not even consider it. Did he get in? Of course! Graduated from the associate's program in 08, went to work in a four star resort, just long enough to apply to the bachelor's program, headed back to school and is now about to start his forth year, maintaining a 4.0 GPA from day one. He will graduate in Feb of 2010 with a bachelor's degree from CIA.

Okay so back to "cooking with your kids". When Mac comes home there are usually four or five friends with him. Imagine your kitchen full of hot shot culinary students. It's like watching the Russian Ballet. I have been a darn good chef for 30 years and even I take a step back and let them roll. When I was chosen to compete in the Maine Lobster Chef of 2008 competition, my choice for sous chef was a no brainer…Mac.

We were both a little nervous as we arrived at the Blaine House but neither of us wanted the other to see it. As the day progressed we geared into "compete mode". We had spent the previous evening planning our plate. I had one look in my mind, he had another. His turned out to be the presentation we would go with. We made crepes…we remade crepes. The last batch was perfect. Our chanteney carrot emulsion was like silk. So at 9 am on July 22, off we went, mother chef and son chef to the governor's mansion to "walk our talk".

As my name was announced as the winner: "Maine's Lobster Chef of 2008" I was overcome with emotion. Not so much for winning (while it is a huge honor) but for realizing that I had given birth to this amazing young chef standing next to me.

(And he still has that Christmas knife kit from when he was 8, and all his fingers).

Margaret Salt McLellan is Executive Chef for Linda Bean's Perfect Maine and 2008 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year


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