NEWS

Future foodies: Kids cook up some fun at this party

Linda Thomas

The menu at Samantha Currie’s recent birthday party has inspired the 10-year-old to cook. At the party, Samantha and her friends whipped up strawberry smoothies, skewed chicken satay with peanut sauce, mini lasagnas with grilled zucchini and squash and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate butter cream frosting.

Surely it’s not your typical pizza and hot dog birthday party fare. Samantha’s menu was put together by Katie Norton, the owner of Chefs at Play, a company that teaches children how to cook at parties in customers’ homes. Norton’s partner is Chef Peter Ingargiola, a sous chef at The Catered Affair in Hingham.

‘‘If I had made chicken satay and grilled vegetables, I don’t think my daughter would have eaten it,’’ said Samantha’s mom, Beth Currie of Hanover.

‘‘But since the party, Samantha has made grocery lists, cooked dinner and prepared desserts for family parties.’’

That’s the outcome Norton aims for. Her intent is to make sure young people know cooking is about more than Easy-Bake Ovens.

Norton, 35, a Hingham mother of two boys, and Ingargiola started Chefs at Play. They focus on nutrition, kitchen safety and gourmet meal preparation.

‘‘If we can teach children at a young age not to be afraid of food, to experiment with it and have fun with it, then maybe we can start to put a dent into the obesity problem in our country,’’ said Norton, who teaches cooking classes at Kingsley Montessori School in the Back Bay.

Norton said cooking didn’t come naturally to her - she dined out and ate fast food a lot. ‘‘It was not until I had a kitchen of my own when I got married that I started to get interested in cooking.

‘‘Once I had children, I realized that I did not want them to take the same direction as I did - and I started really experimenting with cooking,’’ Norton said.

She said once people’s fear of mucking up a meal is gone they’re able to have fun with recipes. It’s important to pass this lesson along to children, she said.

Norton handles the business end of the venture while Ingargiola is the hands-on teacher. A Whitman resident, Ingargiola, 32, is a former chef at the Bristol Lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel.

‘‘It’s all about having fun with food and creating dishes from raw to prepared foods that can be a rewarding experience, especially when it comes out looking and tasting excellent,’’ Ingargiola said.

He said cooking food is not hard. It’s just using proper techniques, the right tools and fresh ingredients. Ingargiola started cooking at age 15. He earned his degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University and has cooked at the Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill and New York’s Della Femina.

He said the key to getting youngsters interested in cooking is to keep them involved. He changes his vocabulary to kid-friendly terms and hands out chefs hats for each child to wear.

‘‘I have three kids of my own, plus I’ve been labeled a big kid myself. Children love the hands-on we do - and getting to be little chefs for the day.’’

Currie said she still gets e-mails from parents telling her what a great time their kids had at Samantha’s party.

A typical birthday party for 10 costs about $450. Norton and her staff arrived with pots, pans, dishes, food, drinks, dessert - and when it was over, Currie said ‘‘they left the kitchen just as they found it.’’

At Eliza Pimental’s 7th birthday party the kids prepared and ate macadamia nut chicken fingers with mango ketchup, coconut chicken with pineapple salsa, tropical fruit salad and cupcakes with vanilla butter cream frosting.

Grace Pimental said it was a great experience to watch her daughter take the role of a little Miss Barefoot Contessa.

‘‘Eliza is always willing to help me with baking and making dinner,’’ Pimental said.

Chefs at Play offers several packages for children ranging in age from 5 to 13. A party for 10 children costs $450. For more information, call 781-987-4836 or go to www.chefsatplay.com.

The Patriot Ledger