We know that children need to eat more healthily but the message will be useless if they don’t learn to cook – and enjoy doing so. Sadly, a generation has already grown up without learning to cook at school: when the National Curriculum was introduced into UK state schools in 1990, practical cookery was sidelined in favour of “food technology”. Children learned to design logos for pizza boxes, rather than to make a pizza.
This gaping hole in our children’s education is something Katie Caldesi, director of Italian cookery school Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, London, is keen to correct. She has two sons aged seven and nine, and says: “It’s criminal that we dropped cookery from the curriculum. Italian food lends itself to cookery for children as long as they don’t just have white carbohydrates; in Italy you have pasta first, then meat, vegetables, then fruit.”
To help get children cooking their favourite Italian dishes, Cucina Caldesi runs classes for those aged six and over alongside its adult programme. It also has a holiday workshop for teenagers, “La Cucina dei Ragazzi”, led by Caldesi head chef Stefano Borella. I went to observe, while my 13-year-old son Ben, a keen eater and occasional cook, took part in the class alongside five others.
Borella, whose teaching style is informal but authoritative, won over the young cooks from the start. The aim of the session, he said, was to prepare, cook and eat a three-course meal: gnocchi with walnut pesto, fish skewers with lemon couscous and basil pannacotta served with berries.