Made By Me Cooking School Inspires Young Chefs
Heather Dupee Fills a Void and Helps Get Kids into the Kitchen to Learn
The skeptic in me wondered: In 90 minutes, could a small group of young children prep, cook and consume a meal of turkey meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted Parmesan broccoli and apple crisp, with assistance from just two adults?
After I attended one session of a cooking class at Heather Dupee’s Made By Me Cooking School, I tucked into the delicious meal and put my skepticism aside. Made By Me has developed a recipe for success!
The school offers classes, cooking camps and birthday parties for children aged 5 and older, as well as monthly cooking adventures for adults, billed as Prosecco and Prep.
How did Made By Me come to fruition? In March 2016, Dupee’s son, Brady, then 8, expressed an interest in cooking classes. Her search proved unsuccessful and her social media inquiries revealed a strong interest in children’s cooking classes. Then a stay-at-home mom, Dupee realized, “This is what I need to do.”
She promptly emailed Ali Montagnon, director of events and market manager at the Hope & Main food business incubator in Warren, to ask whether she could host cooking classes there. “I had no business plan … nothing,” Dupee says. “They held my hand and helped me. They mentored me in everything.”
Fast forward to October 2016, when Made By Me hosted its first event: a culinary birthday party for Brady. Dupee, who, as an undergraduate, had changed her college major from culinary to restaurant management at New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University), laughingly admits that she’s gained more patience through this trial-and-error experience.
“Kids learn better when they’re ‘hands on,’” she says, noting that parents often wish her “good luck” about getting their children to taste some new food. She’s found, however, that many children are eating from a wider variety; their palates have expanded. “One kid refused to eat fish and chips; then she ate it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is so good.’”
As Dupee and her friend Stephanie Brake demonstrate how to peel apples, the ebullient, energetic and aptly named Chase, 5, insists, “I can do it by my own … I don’t cook and bake at home, [but] I like to … here.” Chase, a frequent Made By Me participant, and I had an enlightening exchange:
Chase: “We have a bag of apples at home without stickers.”
Me: “Did you go apple picking?”
Me: “Where did you pick the apples?”
Chase, shooting me a dismissive, disbelieving look of amazement: “From a tree!”
“Celery is not a sword,” cautions Dupee, as she distributes a stalk to each child and demonstrates how to break the stalk and peel the strings from the celery.
Elliot, 7, prefers the celery strings to the actual stalks. He reports that he is happy to be here, as he says that he loves cooking.
Emma, 11, wonders aloud, “Do I like celery?” After tasting a small bite, she says, “The celery wasn’t that bad.” Of the meatloaf ingredients she mixed, Emma reports, “Oh my word, it feels … like Halloween candy eyeballs [or] slime; it’s so much fun to make.”
A self-admitted picky eater who mostly eats carbs, Emma explains that her mother thought that Made By Me would help to expand her very limited palate. Although she had never before tasted anything on tonight’s menu—and doesn’t like ice cream, which would accompany the apple crisp—Emma seems game to try it all.
Worcestershire sauce’s pungent smell may have overwhelmed Erin, 6. Holding her nose while carefully pouring a small dollop of the sauce into the meatloaf mix, Erin tells me that, while she’s never tasted turkey meatloaf, pasta carbonara is her favorite food. Attending the class with her brother, Liam, 7, she says, “I don’t know why my mom signed [me] up for class, but I’m glad she did.”
Professing a fondness for butter, Liam asks Brake and Dupee if he could squish together the microwaved butter and flour mixture. Later, after the apple crisp topping was mixed, he says, “It’s starting to smell like apple pie.”
Dupee, Brake and the five students work cooperatively and collectively on the apple crisp and turkey meatloaf and then split into teams to prep the sweet potatoes and broccoli. Of the menu for this, the final night of the four-week class, Dupee laughs, “We’re biting off more than we chew tonight.” Dupee generally chooses foods in season as well as what Brady and her daughter, Hunter, 5, like to eat.
Dupee and Brake gently, yet persistently, teach several cooking skills to the young culinary students, whose energy levels and volubility vary wildly. With intense enthusiasm, they wash their hands, crack eggs, mix ingredients for turkey meatloaf, painstakingly peel potatoes and apples and cut, with child-friendly nylon knives, apples and broccoli. Dupee and Brake exclusively handle the “hot stuff,” such as draining boiling water and taking pans from the oven and pots from the stovetop.
It’s not just culinary skills they teach; Emma says that they teach patience, for both the cooking process and taking turns.
“Chef Heather and Chef Stephanie are great role models; they’re really encouraging, even when we mess up—and we mess up a lot,” says Emma. “I want to be like them; they’re really fun … Chef Heather is stuck with me; she got me hooked.”
As Liam distributes napkins, Dupee and Brake plate the meals for the kids and the newly arrived parents; some kids clamor for specific meatloaf portions. “I’m sweating buckets, but we all did it,” Dupee says cheerfully. Broccoli tastes like grass, says Emma. Liam and Chase especially like the mashed sweet potatoes and Eliot likes everything on his plate.
Aiming to educate, engage, expand and develop palates and explore children’s imaginations at every class/party/camp, Made By Me is now offering one-off specialty classes, such as making Easter truffles and Thanksgiving pies. Expressing surprise at how easy Hope & Main has made the experience for her, Dupee adds, “I am not a business person … this was always one of those things that I thought I would do, but I was too nervous to take the steps without Hope & Main.”
To learn more, visit MadeByMeCookingschool.com