Washington D.C.’s Famous Chef, Fabio Trabocchi, likes to cook at home with his children, ages 10 and 12, at least once a week. He says, “If you don’t cook at all with them, they might assume that everything comes from a package that you find in the supermarket.” He started cooking with his own father when he was just five years old.
He started even earlier than that with his own kids. When they turned 3 he began teaching them cooking skills. He says that, “The beauty of starting at that age is that they’re picking everything up so quickly.”
He suggests letting them start with some small tasks or chores. Pick anything that you think will get them excited. Do you have an herb garden? If not, plant one together and then let them pick the herbs themselves. Consider putting together a small garden of basil and tomatoes. Teach them how to tell when something is ripe and ready to use.
When it comes to things that are potentially dangerous for children to use in the kitchen, like stoves or knives, he suggests using baby steps. “Don’t expose them to aggressive cooking on the stove at the beginning. Let them put some oil in a pot and teach them how to control the heat.” Of course, when a child is near the stove, you should be near the stove too, and remain observant and vigilant of their safety.
One thing Mr. Trabocchi suggests making together is pancakes on a weekend morning. What kid doesn’t like whipping up some batter and making pancakes? Setting the breakfast table and surprising everyone with a delicious breakfast is something all kids love.
He also suggests choosing uncomplicated dishes. He’ll often makes a seasonal salad—such as tomatoes with fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt—and easy dishes such as gazpacho, paella, grilled fish or a pasta. After everyone has enjoyed the meal, he recommends having everyone divvy up cleaning chores too. He says, “It helps them develop good habits for the future—table manners, the way to behave, having a sense of responsibility.”
Trabocchi’s favorite recipe to make with his children on Sundays is Mediterranean Sea Bass in Spicy Tomato Sauce. What makes this so special is the opportunity to go to a farm market or store, and pick out the produce together in order to gain an appreciation for quality ingredients. Giving them tasks like washing and picking the herbs, peeling the onions and garlic, taking the seeds out of the bell peppers and washing the tomatoes, teaches them to work together as a whole family.