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    Eat & Swig

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    It’s a little after 5 p.m. on a Monday in early September, and all the kids want to stir. Nine of them, all between the ages of five and nine, crowd around two metal work-tables at the back of Mesa Kids Cooking School in New Albany, Indiana, an offshoot of nearby kitchen-classroom Mesa, which hosted kids’ courses that were so popular they spilled over into their own thing. Bright yellow paint provides a chipper atmosphere, with encouraging Julia Child quotes on the walls. Hotplates sizzle pots on both tables, one team working on ground beef and onions, the other on macaroni and cheese. “It’s my turn to stir,” one little boy calls, his eyes about to fall into the pot as another kid hands him a whisk.

    “That looks like queso!” one boy says.

    “That looks like yogurt,” the only girl in the class adds. “It’s so thick.”

    Chef Mallory Froman, who runs Strong Roots Kitchen as a health coach, guides the class. Divided into age groups — five- to nine-year-olds, 10- to 15-year-olds — Mesa Kids’ students can study cooking or baking, participate in classes taught by guest chefs like Cellar Door Chocolates owner Erika Chavez-Graziano, and even get a crash course in philanthropy. Students from Saturday classes are learning to make Italian dishes for a charity dinner that will benefit Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit that sends underprivileged kids home from school with non-perishable food items on weekends. A portion of every student’s tuition — $129 per four-week class, with a few discounts available — also goes to Blessings in a Backpack.

    When the meat smells mouthwatering and the cheese begins to bubble, Froman brings out wonton wrappers and shows the kids how to fold them. Tonight’s class is one of several that are testing recipes for the kids’ menu at Gospel Bird across the street, rating each dish to decide what makes the cut. They’re shooting for creative twists on kids’-menu staples. Tonight’s wontons — some cheeseburger, some mac ’n’ cheese — are both winners, but according to the show of raised hands after the taste test, the mac ‘n’ cheese is the star.

    When it’s time to clean up, the kids practically climb over one another to get to the sink of dishes first, like Tom Sawyer’s peers racing to paint his fence. It’s part of ensuring that students learn every step of the cooking process, from cutting veggies (young ones use special plastic knives) to drying plates. And Mesa Kids culinary director Liz Martino says they learn more than just cooking. “They’re not only learning a life skill, but time management. Each recipe is a math problem and a science experiment. They’re learning other languages — French and Italian terms,” she says. It’s also a great way to get kids to try new things. Martino’s own son was on the mac ’n’ cheese team tonight. “He eats peanut butter all the time, and that’s about it,” Martino says, “but he comes into this class, and everything he makes, he tries.”

    This originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar, jessicaebelhar.com

    Cover photo: Chef Mallory Froman guides the kids in the Mesa Kids Cooking School.

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    About Dylon Jones

    Dylon Jones is an award-winning poet and essayist based in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as web editor of Louisville Magazine.

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