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Kids and Cooking

with Claudine P├ępin

The chocolate soufflé is light and airy. The Beef Wellington is perfectly browned. The meringue is whipped into exquisite peaks.

The proud chef is ten years old.

Across the country, young chefs are showing their culinary “chops” on kids cooking competitions as they whisk, braise, and sauté their way into the hearts of millions of viewers.

What has led to this culture of culinary whiz kids?

We reached out to Claudine Pépin, daughter of legendary French chef, Jacques Pépin. An accomplished cook, teacher and television personality in her own right, Claudine was eleven when she prepared a Spinach with Béchamel for a national magazine photo shoot with her famous father. 

And her daughter, Shorey, was just ten when she stole the hearts of America while cooking with her grandfather on the PBS series, “Heart & Soul.”

“Cooking is now seen as a respected profession,” Claudine says, “and much of its popularity has to do with television.”

“My father and Julia Childs were really the first,” she says.

Their “Cooking at Home” TV series, held in Julia’s legendary home kitchen, brought the joy of cooking and conversation to millions of ardent viewers.

Cooking competitions are doing the same.

“What I love about the kids championships,” Claudine says, “is that kids root for each other. When one gets voted off, they all hug each other.”

Win or lose, what all these young competitors share is a passion for food and cooking.

It’s this passion, combined with her love of family, that inspired Claudine to write her cookbook, “Let’s Cook French!” 

As warm as a hug, this little jewel, written in English and French, contains thirty treasured family recipes for parents to make with their children. Its creation was a family affair. Claudine’s father and daughter made the charming and whimsical artwork, while Claudine and her husband, Chef Rollie Wesen, were in charge of recipes.

“There was absolute bribery with Shorey when it came to the illustrations,” Claudine says. “We told her, ‘Every time we see one of your pictures in the book, I’ll give you five bucks.’” What Claudine didn’t realize was how often many of Shorey’s delightful illustrations, including her hearts and butterflies, would be repeated.

Claudine’s cookbook celebrates the kitchen as the heart of the home.

When Shorey comes home from school, she plops her books on the center island in the kitchen. “Shorey talks, and I cook,” says Claudine. 

“Every night as a family,” she continues, “we set the table, look at each other and share a meal as we talk about the day.”

It’s Claudine’s hope that “as you wander the pages of this little book, ...you get excited and inspired to cook for your family, friends and yourself.”

In fact, she hopes you love the book so much that you scribble notes in the margins as you spatter drips of butter and sauce on each well-used page. After you cook the recipes as she wrote them, she hopes you will make them your own. 

Claudine and her father share a belief that cooking is an expression of love. 

“Food doesn’t have to be complicated,” Claudine says. “It needs to be wholesome, nutritious, and preferably well-seasoned. And, it’s always best when shared with those you love.”