More and more, dads teach kids to cook

As a child, Linda Villafane developed an early interest in cooking. In particular, she enjoyed watching her father prepare favorite dishes for the family.

"He would talk to me about what he was doing," says Ms. Villafane, of Miami. "I would help him chop things and prepare the vegetables. As I got older, I would help him more with everything."

Today Villafane is one of a growing number of women in their 20s who credit their fathers with teaching them how to cook. While mothers and grandmothers still play central roles in passing along kitchen skills to sons and daughters, changes in domestic roles are altering the way new generations learn culinary skills.

A study by Betty Crocker Kitchens finds that nearly a quarter of women in their 20s say their fathers taught them to cook. Among women in their 40s, only 12 percent learned from their fathers.

"It's a very significant change," says Maggie Gilbert, manager of Betty Crocker Kitchens in Minneapolis.

The change reflects the growing presence of men in the kitchen. Two-thirds of the 20-somethings in the study had mothers who worked.

The study reveals other shifts as well. Whereas women in their 40s often learned basic food preparation at school or in 4-H, those in their 20s are more likely to say they are self-taught. They also rely on television and the Internet.

"They're not learning from their mothers the way I did," says Judy Shaver, who coordinates cooking classes at Kitchen and Company in Newington, N.H. "I find young people glued to TV cooking shows. They're watching Rachael Ray. She does 30-minute meals, quick and easy."

For those like Villafane who learned to measure, mix, and sauté from Dad, the advantages go beyond recipes. Many find their relationships deepening.

"It gives him a sense of pride that he can teach his children the traditions of our family," Villafane says of her father. A native of Venezuela, he taught her Latin dishes. She now does all the cooking for the family during holidays.

For Melissa Aiello, cooking with her father involved a single recipe. When she was about to leave home in New Jersey to attend college in Boston, he insisted that she learn how to make pasta sauce.

"I remember thinking it was something so little, because it's just pasta sauce," she says. "But you could tell it was important to him to teach me how to do it before he sent his little girl out on her own."

Ms. Aiello, who now works for a public relations firm in Rutherford, N.J., still makes his recipe.

"Every once in a while I have to buy jarred sauce, but I feel guilty," she says.

The rest of her culinary skills came by trial and error as she and her college roommates taught themselves to cook.

Although Debra Schindler Kohlhepp of Baltimore learned most of her cooking skills from her mother, it was her father who taught her to make what she considers the most important meal of the year - Thanksgiving dinner.

After college, she was preparing to move to the Midwest with her new husband. "My dad woke me up that Thanksgiving morning to teach me how to make the dressing, fry the giblets, and stuff the turkey," Mrs. Kohlhepp recalls. "He showed me every detail, down to smearing butter over the skin of the turkey and salting it before putting it in a cooking bag."

Some fathers start lessons early.

Chuck Casto of Sudbury, Mass., is teaching his four-year-old daughter, Chloe, to cook. Several evenings a week, the two make dinner. On weekends their specialties include pancakes and muffins.

"She's loving it," says Mr. Casto, who owns a public relations consulting firm. "We make casseroles, pasta dishes, cakes from scratch, cookies - you name it."

While they stir and bake, Casto's wife, Elise, often sits nearby, paying bills or doing other activities that keep her connected to them.

"Chloe can see what goes into a recipe, experience the process it takes to create a dish, and behold the finished product," says Casto, who does most of the cooking for the family. "It's a great way to foster her creativity."

Father-daughter sessions in the kitchen also play a special role for divorced men. Corey Cutler has been cooking with his 7-year-old daughter for several years.

"It's a way for us to do something together, instead of sitting around and watching TV," he says.

When his daughter was younger, they sliced ready-made dough and popped cookies in the oven. Now they make sesame noodles and invent new dishes.

"Some of them are not so tasty, but I eat them with pride," says Mr. Cutler, director of development for a nonprofit group in New York. "She has a real interest in the kitchen as a result. Who knows where it will lead?"

Some young people never learn from either parent.

"For parents in two-income families, there really isn't enough time to teach these kids," says Carmela Natale, co-owner of Chef Walter's Cooking School in Providence, R.I. "They're looking for other places where they can get easy concepts of food."

Many students arrive at college with few skills in the kitchen beyond using a microwave, says Victoria Getty, a registered dietician at Indiana University. The first time she taught a cooking class, she put students at separate stations with stovetops and asked them to melt margarine.

"All of a sudden there was a giant line in one end of the room," she recalls. They were all waiting for the microwave. After she showed them how easy it is to melt margarine in a pan on the stove, they became interested in cooking techniques.

Because many 20-somethings grew up in two-career families where time was short, dinners often involved pizza, pasta, chicken, and ethnic foods, rather than the meat and potatoes that were standard fare when the 40-somethings were growing up.

As a result, the younger generation wants easy recipes. "One of the tenets we took from the study is that simplicity is incredibly important," Ms. Gilbert says. "They don't want anything too complicated." Yet they also insist that meals must not be boring.

Whatever types of food are involved, Casto, who grew up cooking with his mother, hopes other men will follow his example.

"It's important for cooking dads to pass this skill along to the next generation," he says. "It's practical, creative, therapeutic, and a great way for dads, daughters, and sons to bond."

Chloe's Cookies

2-1/2 cups of flour
1-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 stick of butter, softened
1 stick of light butter, softened (our tester used margarine instead)
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
12 oz. of nut-free, semisweet chocolate chips (See note in directions.)
1/2 cup of raisins or minced maraschino cherries (or a mixture of both)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir lightly to mix. Set aside.

Soften butter and light butter by microwaving them for about 10 to 15 seconds on high. They should be soft, but not melting too much.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter for about 2 minutes or until creamy. Add sugars and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add one egg, and beat well. Add the second egg; beat well.

Add vanilla and beat for 1 minute.

Scrape bowl well with spatula and beat for about another minute.

Add flour mixture gradually while beating until batter is well mixed.

Scrape bowl with spatula one more time and beat briefly.

Fold in chocolate chips using a rubber spatula, then fold in raisins or cherries or a mixture of both. Be sure the chips, raisins, and cherries are well-distributed throughout the batter.

Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls onto nongreased cookie sheets. Bake in the center of the oven for 11 to 14 minutes. (Baking time will vary according to your oven.)

Remove cookies from oven and let stand on sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. (Be sure to eat a few cookies while they're still warm.)

Yield: about five dozen.

Note: We use Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate Chips. Even if you don't have a problem with nut allergies, these chips give the cookies a very rich taste.

- Courtesy of Chuck Casto

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