Towards the beginning of lockdown, head chef at Tjing Tjing in Cape Town Christi Semczyszyn started posting videos of what she was cooking at home, with her son, Felix, getting involved. She soon started featuring him more after people commented on how much they enjoyed seeing him help her.
She shares: “He loves cooking!” Christi says her son is very interested in the process and helps as much as he can, by chopping mushrooms with a dull kid’s knife, for example, or grating cheese – though she does joke that he eats half of it. Felix’s grandmother even made him a chef hat and apron for his kitchen duties, at his request.
For Giles Edwards, chef-patron at La Tête, the lockdown has meant more time to sit down for dinner. It all started on a rainy Sunday when his six year old, William, desperately wanted to bake something and was trying to do so without a recipe. Giles tried to guide his natural creativity, and with the help of a hastily googled recipe, they made a clafoutis. “That was the beginning of the cooking,” he says.
Since then, they have shared many bowls of home-made pasta and started little rituals such as Tuesday-night chicken and chips. He says his children love the process and are fascinated by how food is made from scratch, especially at a time when many children are used to ready-made ingredients or meals.
Chef and restaurateur Bertus Basson agrees that he is often not home a lot, so lockdown allowed him to spend more time cooking with his family. He says: “We trialled a lot of burgers and pizzas in lockdown and incorporated some of the changes at De Vrije Burger and The Deck.”
Multi-award-winning celeb chef and author Siba Mtongana has always enjoyed including her four children in the kitchen and is planning to release a children’s cookbook soon. She says: “During lockdown we spent even more time in the kitchen together and it was such a wonderful way to bond and to educate and upskill from a young age.”
Siba has lovely memories of her own mother and learning to cook a variety of traditional food. She says: “My love for cooking was cultivated in our little kitchen back home in Mdantsane and I will forever cherish those times together.”
How to get your child involved in the kitchen
Siba’s advice to parents is “to always try to include the children in the decision-making when it comes to food”. Get their buy-in and explain healthy, delicious eating.
If you’re planning to cook with your children, Giles says it’s all about “patience and preparation”. He recommends choosing something simple that isn’t too messy and can be followed without the kids losing interest. He says that it’s best to get everything ready before the little ones jump in, and to make it fun.
Christi has some advice for new parents. “I’m very much in favour of the ‘baby-led weaning’ style,” she says, which means one gives normal food to babies as young as six months old, instead of relying heavily on purées. She explains: “It’s meant that Felix started eating the same food as us from very young, so he has an insanely diverse palate and I never need to make him a separate meal. He’s open to trying any foods and there’s nothing he doesn’t eat.”