When my 6-year-old, Jai, began to tell me the difference between Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee, the current Food Network divas, I knew he was ready to be more hands-on in the kitchen. Of course, he wanted to learn how to cook from a chef who, as he puts it, "wears a chef's hat" and not a mom who "writes on the computer." So we picked a children's sushi-making class at Sushi-Ko in Glover Park to begin his foray into what Jai calls the "real world of cooking."
Sushi-Ko, is just one of a number of professional kitchens in the area that have created classes for youngsters, be they tykes or teenagers. For parents whose children express an interest in cooking, these organized courses can serve as an ideal, ahem, entree to culinary pursuits. Of course, not only do students learn to make interesting menu items, they also get to eat them. Class schedules vary and while some allow individual children to sign up, others are only for groups, so be sure to call ahead. And remember that almost all classes require that each child be accompanied by an adult -- so you might even learn a little something yourself.
DC COAST. This downtown restaurant's children's cooking classes, now in their fourth year, are centered around the holidays. Last year Executive Pastry Chef David Guas prepared a gingerbread house with the kids; it turned out so beautifully that it was displayed in the restaurant until New Year's. This year, Guas has chosen to do a Louisiana theme and the final menu may include gingerbread cookies cut out in shapes to go along with the book "Cajun Night Before Christmas." There will also be Cajun hot chocolate, calas (New Orleans rice fritters) and alligator-shaped spice cakes for kids to decorate. $50 per child; the class is Dec. 10, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 1401 K St. NW. 202-393-1510. www.dccoast.com.
EQUINOX. Chef Todd Gray and his wife, Ellen, devise cooking classes for kids 11 and older who are serious about learning to cook. The induction burner that heats up a pot but won't burn your hands is a big draw. "Kids love the science behind such things," says Ellen Gray. Classes are private for individuals or groups and customized to students' interests, including vegetarian cooking and baking. "We ask kids to tell us their cooking dreams and then work on helping them achieve it," she says. $65-$150 per child; classes are two hours. (The restaurant also offers free apprenticeships to young people ages 13 and older who are interested in a future as a chef.) 818 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-331-8118. www.equinoxrestaurant.com.
FLAVORS FOR KIDS. "Packaged products are loaded with additives," says Lanette Doran, the founder of Alexandria-based Flavors for Kids. "My focus is to teach youngsters about the benefits of whole and natural foods." A new mom herself, Doran say she tries to develop an appreciation in her students for such vegetables as spinach and squash and to show them how easy it is to make a meal with fresh ingredients. Doran, whose children's cooking classes have been featured on local Fairfax cable television, teaches in her home. Her most popular projects include inventing an energy bar and making a watermelon cake. $96 per child for a four-class series; classes are 90 minutes. The next classes start the week of Jan. 9: Monday at 3:30 and 5 p.m., Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. 6106 Juneberry Court, Alexandria. 703-765-0304. www.flavorsforkids.com.
JUST CAKES. "One of our most fun classes was for a mother-daughter book club," says owner Marge Schinnerer. "The 10-year-olds were reading 'Anne of Green Gables' with their moms and so we prepared tea sandwiches and cookies before their book discussion." The Bethesda bakery and gift shop specializes in cake decorating and holiday-themed baking classes. For the cake decorating classes, each child makes a six-inch cake to trim and then take home. Classes vary according to age and ability and can range from learning how to pipe icing and use stencils to decorating with edible flowers. $35-$60 per child; classes are 11/2 to 2 hours. Current classes to make gingerbread houses are weekends through Dec. 18. 4849 Rugby Ave., Bethesda. 301-718-5111. www.justcakes.net.
SUSHI-KO. General Manager Allen Smith has an easy way with kids and makes his restaurant's exotic cuisine seem friendly and familiar. Children start out by learning about rice and how sticky "sticky rice" actually can get. They are then taught how to use bamboo mats to make sushi rolls. $30 per child; classes are 90 minutes. The next class will be in January. 2309 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-4187.