Food and prop styling by Jenn Friberg Makeup by Kelly Quinlan of Face of the Occasion Hair by Alexis Perch of jmorgan salon and home Props provided by Fox and Finch Vintage Rentals
29 Cooks is a sort of magical land where people, no matter their age, can sign up to play in the kitchen. Although, the word "play" probably demeans the level of work that is actually being done here.
Cindie Feldman is the mastermind and executive chef of this kitchen, but her true passion lies in supporting the cooks in the making. A few years ago, her career was going well; she owned a bistro restaurant and had experience catering, but she was eager to try something different. When she mentioned to her family that she was interested in opening a business teaching kids how to cook, they instantly started laughing and making jokes, saying it could never work. “I love to be told no, and I’m a middle child, so I like to make sure that if somebody tells me I can’t do it, I dig right out of that hole and we do it,” she says.
With all the camps and activities available to children these days, Feldman saw a void when it came to cooking. “There’s nothing for those who just really enjoy cooking,” she says. “I did not come from a cooking family—I just have always had that passion to cook.”
But passion doesn’t instantly translate to skill. It wasn’t until Feldman was 21 years old that she made something she would call a “very good dish.” “We always joke when people say ‘I can’t cook,’” says Feldman. “Everyone learns by doing. Julia Child said ‘No one was born knowing how to cook.’”
But designing a business that revolved around teaching kids to cook would not be a simple feat. Children spend the majority of their time in school, so Feldman knew there had to be another piece to the puzzle. “We really opened the catering business as our bread and butter so that we could take my passion, which is to really encourage people to be confident and have fun and just enjoy food,” she says.
At an early age, Moses’s mom could tell he had a knack for cooking. “She noticed I was cracking eggs better than her,” he says with a laugh.
“I made Artichoke Alfredo. It has artichokes in it, of course, and it has parsley. And it has heavy cream and other delicious things, and lemons and lemon juice in it.”
Though handmade pasta is one of his favorite dishes to make, don’t expect him to open an Italian bistro anytime soon. “I’d like to own my own little restaurant and make my food there, pancakes or something, like a diner,” he says.
Moses’s Lemon Artichoke Fettuccine Alfredo
12 oz fettuccine pasta1 stick of butter2 cups heavy creamjuice of 2 lemons1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese1 1/2 cups finely chopped parsley (reserve some for garnish)2 cans of artichoke hearts (marinate in olive oil and hot chili flakes to taste 30 minutes prior)salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Cook the pasta to al dente and be sure to salt the water.
Drain the artichoke hearts and put in a bowl with olive oil, hot chili flakes, and fresh ground pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Melt the butter in a pan over low heat and add the cream. Stir to combine and let it just come to simmer. Add the lemon juice and stir.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cheese. Be sure to taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.
Drain pasta and toss in the sauce along with the parsley.
Unlike most fifth and sixth graders, Shane’s not into junk food. He likes “good food,” and learning to cook was his way of ensuring he could make whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. “I like to chop stuff,” he says.
“I made Spicy Sea Sushi,” says Shane. “It’s called Sea because it has shrimp and crab. It has spicy mayo, another spicy sauce and it has cucumber and carrots.”
“What I really like about cooking is it being unlimited and you can almost do whatever you want, and make it taste like anything,” says Shane. “My biggest challenge is not knowing what the end product should look like or taste like.”
Shane’s Inside-Out Sea Sriracha Sushi
1 sheet nori1 cup cooked and seasoned sushi riceBlack and regular toasted sesame seeds4 ounces of lump crabmeat3 large cooked peeled shrimp, butterflied1/2 an avocado, sliced1/4 cup fine julienned carrot1/2 cup julienned English cucumber3 ounces cream cheese2 Tbsp. sriracha sauceTobiko seasoningOld Bay seasoningWasabiPickled gingerLow-sodium soy sauceBamboo sushi mat1/4 cup of mayonnaise
Wrap a bamboo mat with plastic wrap. Lay a nori sheet down and spread the rice on the nori sheet. Sprinkle with Tobiko and Sesame seeds. Flip the nori sheet over so the rice is on the bottom.
Mix 1 Tbsp. of sriracha sauce with the cream cheese. Directly on the nori sheet, with your fingers, spread the cream cheese horizontally across the bottom third of the sheet. Next layer the crabmeat, carrots, cucumber, avocado and shrimp and a sprinkle of Old Bay.
Roll up tightly using the mat to form the roll. Cut into six pieces and serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger. Combine 1 Tbsp. of sriracha sauce with mayonnaise and drizzle on top of the sushi rolls.
13, Lower Macungie
“I like that cooking is an opportunity for me to be creative. I like changing recipes and using new ingredients,” says this teenager, wise beyond her years, who claims that since she has not found a recipe she didn’t enjoy making, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
“I made sweet potato cupcakes with maple buttercream frosting,” Sarah says. “I actually wrote the recipe myself. I found some things online about the amounts that should go in and I went from there.”
Those things she found online were not the same as what most people search for on Pinterest, but rather recipe formulas indicating how much each ingredient would need to weigh in order to build a functioning recipe. “What she did, I’ve never actually seen a lot of adult chefs do to that level,” says Feldman.
“It was just a lot of math,” Sarah says. “The flour had to equal the same weight as the sugar, and the eggs had to be the same weight as the butter, and all the liquids had to be the same weight as the sugar.”
Sarah hopes to open her own bakery one day.
Sarah’s Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream Frosting
Makes about 16 cupcakes
1/4 cup butter3/4 cup sugar1/2 cup brown sugar, packed1 tsp. vanilla1 egg2/3 cup milk2 cups flour2 tsp. baking power1 tsp. cinnamon1/2 tsp. baking soda1/4 tsp. nutmeg3/4 cup sweet potato puree
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place paper liners in cupcake tins.
Cream together butter and sugars.
Add in vanilla, egg and milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.
Stir in sweet potato puree.
Fill cupcake tins three-quarters full with the batter and bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.
Top cupcakes with maple butter-cream frosting and garnish with sugared pecans if desired.
Maple Butter-Cream Frosting
3 cups confectioners’ sugar3 sticks salted butter*4 Tbsp. pure maple syrup1/2 tsp. maple extract
Combine powdered sugar and butter in a standing mixer and beat on high.
Slowly add maple syrup and extract and continue to beat until creamy.
*For sweeter softer frosting, omit one stick of butter.
2 cups pecan halves1 Tbsp. sugar1 tsp. cinnamon1 tsp. vanilla1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Preheat oven to 275°F.
Toss all ingredients in a large bowl until pecans are well coated.
Spread nut mixture on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
“My end goal for every child, whether they come to a one-day workshop, a private lesson or a camp, is that they leave with some level of confidence that they made something,” she explains. “Not for them to leave and become a chef, but for them to leave with some confidence and go home with a smile.”
Feldman jokes that the level of patience one needs to have to teach children to cook is astronomical. “You just have to keep in perspective that they are kids and why they’re here,” she says. After a typical pastry camp, sprinkles are everywhere, things are spilling, but she doesn’t want the kids to worry so much about that. “Which is probably why parents love to send them to me,” she laughs. “We have people that clean up.
“My favorite thing to see is watching [the kids] realize that there are no limits. They can actually just take ingredients that they’ve never seen before, that they’ve never tried before, and make something,” Feldman says, explaining that one of the values she tries to instill in the kids is that cooking isn’t just about cooking for yourself, but rather, cooking from your heart for the people that you love. She gives the example of hummus. Not all kids like hummus, but if it’s what they’re making in the kitchen that day, they start to think about their parent or sibling who likes hummus, and at the end of the day, they’re really proud to bring it home to them.
“Cooking isn’t just about making a meal or making a burger. I think that my philosophy is that tenacity pays off,” she says. “In life we’re constantly comparing ourselves to each other. Cooking has really taught me that no matter what you’re scared of, or what you’re intimidated by, you just keep on going until you get it right. And sometimes you’re not going to get it right, but you at least compare yourself to yourself.”
The kids who come to camp aren’t just learning to cook; they’re learning so much about themselves. Feldman says, “Not knowing something is an okay thing and finding sources that do know to teach you is what life’s all about.”
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