by Julie Ratner
In the sunlit kitchen of the Cubberley Community Center, about 10 children stirred, whirred, chopped, diced and kneaded under the direction of Georgette LaBossiere. LaBossiere recently opened the Children's Culinary Academy, where she offers cooking lessons to children ages 7-12.
A teacher at Parents Nursery School in Palo Alto for the past two years and the mother of a 4-year-old, LaBossiere has taught the children of friends and relatives to cook for many years. Her crowning as "queen of pasta" in the nursery school newsletter gave LaBossiere's husband, Larry, the inspiration for opening a children's culinary school.
"It's important for kids to learn how to cook so they know what good food is," said LaBossiere, a Palo Alto resident. "Kids these days don't know what good food is or where it comes from. For the rest of their lives, they won't be afraid to try new things."
LaBossiere's mother did not cook, but she spent hours as a child in the kitchen of a playmate whose mother had a penchant for cooking. "We only had TV dinners at my house. I taught myself how to bake and how to cook," said LaBossiere.
"You don't want to make PB and J's all of your life. I think kids should learn to cook at an early age," remarked 11-year-old Korin Bisch, a student at the cooking class.
Using fresh ingredients, LaBossiere teaches kids simple recipes they can follow on their own. Recent class subjects included pastas on May 6 and pizza on May 20. The next class will be desserts on June 3.
Donning multicolored aprons, the children worked to produce the perfect pizza. Starting from scratch, they mixed flour and virgin olive oil to the right consistency.
Within minutes, the sparkling counters of the Cubberley kitchen were covered with pizza makings.
"I like getting messy," said a flour-dusted but smiling Mallory Bisch, 8.
To the easygoing LaBossiere, teaching is second nature, and the mess a part of the process. "A lot of mothers who bring their kids to classes don't have the time, or they don't want to get their kitchens messed up. I don't mind, I love teaching the kids," she said.
Her hands-on approach engages the children. "Georgette gets in and does it with us, and she shows us exactly how to do it," said Korin Bisch, who began taking lessons from LaBossiere several years ago.
Fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits, grated cheeses, salami, sauces, spices and a variety of culinary utensils rested at the fingertips of the young chefs-in-the making.
"I like to cook, and the eating part is good too," said student Allison Tarbell, 9, as she delicately labored to slice a mango for an exotic fruit salad.
As for safety, LaBossiere said, "I teach them about knives and the care and use of them and about the oven. You have to start from the very basics when you teach kids. When you show them the proper use of things, they are much less likely to get hurt."
Does every child's future hold the promise of a Wolfgang Puck or Julia Child? Perhaps.
"Kids are like a big sponge, and when you give them these classes, or any challenges, they absorb them and they move on, and they have interest," LaBossiere said.
@recname:Italian Flat Bread (Focaccia) @quan: 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 3 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons sugar 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup olive oil @direc:In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over water and let stand 5 minutes to soften. Stir in sugar, salt and oil. Add 2 cups flour; mix to blend. With a heavy-duty mixer or wooden spoon, beat until dough is elastic (about 5 minutes). Stir in about 2/3 cup more flour to make dough soft.
Turn dough out onto a board or pastry cloth floured with some of the remaining 1/3 cup flour; knead until dough is smooth and springy (10 to 15 minutes). Place in a greased bowl; turn dough to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 hour).
Punch dough down; knead briefly on a lightly floured board just to release air. Roll and stretch dough to fit bottom of a well-greased 10 by 15 inch shallow baking pan. With the end of a spoon, press holes in dough at 1 inch intervals. Add toppings or flavorings if desired. Let dough rise, uncovered, until almost doubled (15-20 minutes).
Bake in a 450-degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until well-browned. Cut bread into 12 equal pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature.
For more information about the Children's Culinary Academy, contact Georgette LaBossiere at 493-6614.
Back up to the Table of Contents Page