LAST week, I invited 25 young primary school kids into my restaurant as part of the annual Eco Schools competition One Planet Picnic.
Not quite your typical day at The Kitchin, but I’ve been involved in the project for over three years now and it’s something I’m really proud to be part of.
The principles of the Eco Schools food and environment project, is to get kids to understand why it’s so important to shop and eat locally. They had to create a picnic using only ingredients that they had grown at their own school or had been sourced from local suppliers. I think many could learn from their example and take their lead.
As parents of four young boys, my wife Michaela and I really see why it’s so important for young people to understand where their food comes from. Half of those 25 pupils may have screwed up their noses when faced with fresh, succulent Scottish oysters, but every one of them had fun trying something new, or proving to their friends they were brave enough to give it a go. It was a lot of fun for me too. I think that’s the truly important thing about food. It’s a thing of beauty – something to get excited about and feel passionate about. Whether you love a food or hate it, it’s all about that passion it instils in people – young and old.
Even though I’ve been a chef for many years now, I still love to try new things – new combinations, new ingredients and new recipes, whether I make them myself or I try something in a different restaurant, city or country I visit.
The young kids who visited the restaurant were able to experience and learn about some of my favourite Scottish ingredients, and I was pretty impressed with their cooking skills. They had all formed teams and done some baking before they came to visit us. With a little help from my kitchen team we put their baking to the test and picked the winners – the four budding bakers of a lovely, moist fruit loaf.
Baking is a great start for kids and a good way to get them into the kitchen and inspire them to cook. There are lots of other things you can try with kids though, and getting them to help prepare dinner is a good way to set them off on the right foot. Start with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients like fresh Scottish fish or lovely, locally grown vegetables. Most parents will sympathise with the all too familiar struggle to get their kids to eat up some of the more healthy foods around.
Fishcakes are easy to make and fun for kids to join in. You can make different shapes like fish fingers or even letters if you buy cookie cutters. Combine a collection of colourful, chunky vegetables and smother them with Scottish cheese for a fresh spring bake. The kids can help place all the chunky veg on the plate and sprinkle the cheese over the top. An education for them and a helping hand for you – what could be better?
400g mixed fish – smoked haddock, salmon, cod
400g mashed potato
2 tbsp chopped herbs – parsley, dill, chervil
salt and pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
To coat the fishcakes
1 beaten egg
100g plain flour
Poach the fish gently for 4-5 minutes in salted water. When ready, remove from the water and flake, and once cool, remove any skin or bones. Mix the fish with the mashed potato, herbs and one egg and season to taste.
Shape into fishcakes and flour gently. Then using three separate containers, roll in the flour and pat off any excess. Then roll in the next container of beaten egg wash before rolling in the third container of bread crumbs. Shape neatly with a palette knife.
Heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and add vegetable oil. When the oil is nice and hot, add your fishcakes and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden. Serve with a salad of shredded carrot, white cabbage and parsley, with a lime wedge on the side.
Spring vegetable bake
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 courgette, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, sliced
75g plain flour
200g grated cheddar
Pre-heat oven to 180C/Gas 4. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk and most of the cheese and simmer gently, stirring frequently. Once the sauce has thickened, set aside. Heat a large pan of boiling salted water. Blanch each of the vegetables individually, checking with a small knife to see if they are ready. Drain before placing the vegetables together in a baking dish. Cover with the cheese sauce, a sprinkling of grated cheese and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve.