The chefs-in-training arrived at Spoonfoolery Creative Cooking & Baking, 2113 Greenleaf St., one by one, removed their coats, washed their hands and approached their work stations.
These members of the Elementary Chefs program, led by Mamata Reddy, owner and executive director of Spoonfoolery, listened to their assignment and reviewed the tools set out before them: a knife, a peeler, two stainless steel bowls and a plastic cutting board.
Each one considered the red, glistening apple on their respective boards. The students – Ellis, Sophia, Kiernan and Eliza – picked up their peelers and approached the subjects at hand. Swish, swish, swish.
A few minutes later, four naked apples lay poised on four cutting boards, the thin remnants of apple skin deposited in the smaller stainless bowl at each workstation. Then, like a team of synchronized surgeons preparing to open a row of sedated patients, they made that first cut. Splat.
The sound rang out in the open demonstration and teaching kitchen as apples were halved, quartered and sliced into eighths and their seeds discarded. Occasionally someone snuck a slice, munching silently.
Mamata (pronounced MA-ma-tuh) is a classically trained pastry chef and graduate of the French Pastry School. Throughout the one hour and fifteen minute class, she stopped by each student’s workstation to observe, encourage and gently guide so that skills were reinforced and safety maintained. The chefs-in-training were well on their way to making apple crescent rolls from scratch.
Elementary Chefs is an innovative after-school program created and directed by Ms. Reddy. Her first career was as a journalist and editor in higher education publishing and financial news research, but she longed to switch her professional focus. She went back to school to get her certification in pastry arts and soon found a position teaching extracurricular culinary classes for ages 8 to 18 at the Gary Comer Youth Center on Chicago’s South Side. The job combined her love of children, teaching, and food education, and planted the idea that became Spoonfoolery.
Once Ms. Reddy and her husband had their own children, it became clear that they could not maintain a healthy family-life balance if both parents were commuting to Chicago. That realization helped fast-track Spoonfoolery, and after finding the right space and building out her kitchen, Ms. Reddy opened for business earlier this year.
In addition to Elementary Chefs, Ms. Reddy also offers parent-tot classes called Short Stacks for children ages 3-5, and Middle School Makers ‘n’ Bakers for ages 11-14. All classes emphasize following directions, sharing equipment and making healthy food choices. Each class includes taking home the results of their labors, often still warm from the oven.
Specialty classes like Holiday Break Baking Workshop and Gingerbread House Party are offered throughout December and January. There is even a dinner and movie night just for kids. Registration and payment is handled online through www.spoonfoolery.com.
When she is not teaching kids how to cook, Ms. Reddy enjoys hosting children’s birthday parties, special occasion adult parties like birthday or anniversary, bridal or baby showers and corporate team-building exercises at Spoonfoolery. The kitchen accommodates a lesson or activity for up to 20 people and up to 40 attendees.
As their parents arrived to pick up the Elementary Chefs, Ms. Reddy packed each person’s apple crescent rolls and a few random pigs-in-blankets made with leftover dough. The kitchen smelled delicious, and the room felt warm and cozy. “Next week’s lesson will be mac and cheese from scratch,” Ms. Reddy teased. “You’ll see how easy it is, and not a box in sight.”