Rene Gonzalez Teaches Kids Healthy Cooking is Fun
By Sally Deering
Would your children eat a Spinach Brownie? How about a Mac & Cheese Cupcake with Vegetable Puree or a Cauliflower Pizza? They might if they made it themselves.
Those crazy concoctions were created by Rene Gonzalez, founder of Bambino Chef, a cooking school for kids in Jersey City. Inside Bambino Chef’s storefront there’s a kitchen with brightly colored utensils where kids don aprons, create food they make themselves and in the process learn to be empowered in the kitchen. At Bambino Chef, Rene creates recipes for cookies, cupcakes, pizza – the sky’s the limit and the dishes she creates help give kids a good attitude toward their taste-buds’ nemesis, the vegetable.
“I want kids to build relationships with vegetables,” Rene says. “In our classes they touch them, peel them, mash them. We make cookies with sweet potatoes. Yesterday we made mini carrot cakes. We teach them you don’t have to put frosting on cake. You can drizzle it with a little honey or a little condensed milk and that will be your sugar substitute. If you cut out the sugar, after a while you won’t want it that much.”
Through workshops taught in 50-minute sessions that are age appropriate, from 2 –years to teens, children are introduced to healthy foods and prepare dishes that incorporate fresh, healthy ingredients. Kids can enroll in a 10-class semester, drop-in classes and special workshops.
“For one class, we mashed white beans and broccoli into patties and breaded them,” Rene says. “They looked like trees on an island. The breadcrumbs were the color of sand; the palm trees were the broccoli. We made spaghetti with basil and cherry tomatoes to look like birds eggs. We made Cake Pops with green peas and garlic and the kids loved them.”
Bambino Chef’s charming storefront has a full kitchen and a long table for kids to mix and mash. The charming place is also available for birthdays and special events like pajama parties and baby showers. Adults can take cooking classes, too.
“I was in finance, I was a tough cookie,” Rene says just minutes after hosting a tea party for moms and their babies. “It wasn’t me, I was miserable. This is what I want to do. Children are amazing and now I’m back to who I was meant to be and who I want to be. And I want this to be a happy environment. The kitchen is a happy place.”
Bambino Chef is in after-school programs at several local schools like the French-American Academy of Jersey City. Rene says: “We go to them, we bring our equipment.” And before she gets the kids at Bambino Chef to try out her recipes, she tries them on her three children first.
“I didn’t create pizza, but I make my own pizza with ricotta cheese, cheddar, spinach and slices of pear,” Rene says.
Bambino Chef has a fun atmosphere and it’s easy to see kids would feel right at home mixing, mashing and baking. Rene and her husband Gerson want to give children who visit Bambino Chef a fun and memorable experience. And you never know. With shows like Master Chef, Jr. a popular TV show where kids as young as 10 years-old make soufflés, it’s quite possible Rene could be teaching the future Gordon Ramsey or Cake Boss.
“I tell the children cooking is so much more than pouring ingredients together,” Rene says. “There’s math, numbers, you’re concentrating, using your memory skills. It’s science, too. So you have math, science, confidence. Children are so happy when they see the final result, when they make their meal from scratch. With cooking they see, ‘I accomplished this’.”
Rene Gonzalez’s Green Pea Cheese Balls
A special recipe from Rene Gonzalez for kids 3 and up to do with Mom or Dad
1 cup green peas
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/4-to-1/2 cup cheddar cheese
(optional) ½ cup well cooked (over-cooked) rice, nice and sticky
Mix those ingredients
Add one egg, a little garlic and mix together
Add pinch of salt
Take your child’s favorite crackers; crumble them into breadcrumbs; and roll the balls in the breadcrumbs
Bake at 400-degrees for 10-15 minutes
Take out of oven, let cool and enjoy!
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