“It’s just like the food channel,” said Austin Burgess, 8, a second grader at Randall Holden Elementary School, as he mixed batter to create a batch of fresh pumpkin chocolate chip muffins at Petite Chef. “We’re all a bunch of mini chefs.”
Austin, as well as nine other children from the Norwood Boys and Girls Club, visited Petite Chef, a homelike cooking clinic geared toward youths at 160 Greenwich Avenue, last week. There, they learned how to cook a New Orleans-inspired meal featuring dishes from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
The event was in spirit of the newest Disney On Ice show, “Dare to Dream,” which is now playing the Dunkin’ Donuts Center through Sunday.
As the children prepared the food, they were giggling while being educated on proper cooking techniques by Petite Chef owner Nancy Schwab, who provided the food and fun for free.
“I want to see Disney On Ice,” said Julie Dutra, 11, a sixth grader at Oakland Beach Elementary School, whose favorite Disney character is Cinderella. “I enjoy cooking. I cook at home with my sister and we make brownies and cakes.”
Ashley Seel, 10, a fifth grader at Norwood Elementary, said she thinks Stitch from “Lilo & Stitch” is “really cute.” Like Julie, Ashley also cooks at home.
“I make omelets,” she said, as she prepared baked macaroni and cheese.
Three more Norwood fifth graders, including Teresa Maynard, 10, June Beauregard, 10, and Kaylyn Ciesielski, 10, said they enjoyed the cooking experience.
“It was great,” said Teresa. “I had so much fun. I like Eeyore because he always loses his tail.”
June, whose favorite character is Dory from “Finding Nemo,” said, “I learned you need to scrape the bottom of the bowl because there’s always flour at the bottom.”
Kaylyn said, “My favorite part was everything. I had fun and can’t wait to tell my mom what we did.”
Also in attendance were Nadia Ouldsfiya, 10, Trae Brito, 10, and Alyssa Peixinno, 10, three more Norwood fifth graders, plus Aidan Cahill, 7, a second grader at Park Elementary.
Alyssa said she particularly liked “when we got to cook the muffins.”
Schwab said she enjoyed herself as much as the children from the Boys and Girls Club. She loves being able to teach youths how to cook.
“I’m not sure who has more fun, the kids or me,” said Schwab, who moved to Rhode Island from Nova Scota in 1989. “Regan Communications called me and asked me if I’d be interested in doing something for the Disney on Ice show. I’m not sure how they found me but I’m glad they did. I was so happy to do it. The kids had a ball.”
While Schwab opened last fall, she had a run in with black ice in February. The injury slowed her down a bit, but she was able to stay in business.
“I was still busy and my husband did all my dishes, God love him,” she said. “I really feel like I’m getting my start now. It’s still pretty new.”
Schwab is neither a cook nor a chef. In fact, she doesn’t have any formal training.
“I’m just a mom who loves to bake,” she said. “I love to have kids over to cook. Our house is always full of people and that’s really how I got the idea.”
She and her husband, Michael, have a daughter named Lucy, 11, who is the inspiration behind Petite Chef. Last summer, Schwab held a “Books and Cooks Club” with Lucy and her friends.
“About 10 girls would gather on Thursday mornings and bring their summer reading,” said Schwab. “They had to read for 45 minutes and then we would bake something together. The girls loved the idea. They got their summer reading done in record time and had a ball doing it. It makes me feel really good. Most of the fun for them is just being together. I thought, ‘Well, this could be a good way for me to make a living.’ I have fun doing it and the kids are so happy to do it.”
Further, Schwab also thinks it’s important to have children in the kitchen, not only when cooking, but when eating, too. She said people should take the time to cook at home with their families.
“People are so busy but they need to slow down,” said Schwab. “It’s amazing how time together in the kitchen can open up conversation between children and parents. It’s nice to have your children beside you and have them prepare food with you and set the table. It’s a good time for conversation with them. Cooking is a great way to practice basic math skills, too. For me, the most important time is mealtime. That’s what’s really missing today.”
She believes cooking gives children confidence and a sense of pride. It also brings her joy.
“Watching them from start to finish and seeing them take the first bite of the food they made is really rewarding,” she said. “I love being with the kids. They are just so honest and it’s fun to watch them create something from scratch all by themselves.”
Schwab frequently hosts birthday parties at Petite Chef and is looking forward to having more.
“I feel blessed to have the opportunity to spend a child’s most important day of the year with them,” she said. “I am also offering Sunday afternoon classes so that kids can come and bake cookies that they can proudly take in their lunch boxes for the week.”
For more information about Petite Chef, visit petitechef.net.
To purchase tickets for the Disney On Ice show, “Dare to Dream,” visit www.ticketmaster.com or the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Box Office. To find out more about Disney On Ice, go to www.disneyonice.com.