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  • Johnny Grey

The Next Generation of Cooks


A Kitchen designed for the whole family
A long island with rise and fall circular surfaces at each end. All generations can cook together whatever age or height, sitting down or standing up.

Looking back to when I was studying architecture, I now recognise how little focus there was on making designs for children. Lectures and project topics rarely mentioned them.


There is nothing in the architectural history books and little by way of ergonomic studies for children (or kitchen design either, but that is another story). I remember a 1970s exhibition at a London museum called A Child’s Eye View that featured a photograph of a young child crossing a pedestrian bridge with the handrails unreachable and the balusters so widely spaced the child could fall through them off the bridge.


In time I had the pleasure of designing a kitchen in our first house. I was forty by then and we had two children and another on the way, so I was galvanised into action. The cooking, the eating and clearing up, plus more - dancing, singing – and then on top of these, the children’s parties could all be accommodated because half of the kitchen was free from built-in furniture like a normal room. We could change the furniture layout as we pleased, in line with the phases of our children’s lives. An Eagles song comes to mind, Everyone All the Time, that describes the way I think a kitchen should be. All should be welcome, but especially children. To be able to cook together or hang out, or to work, read or study – this is real inclusivity.

 

As everyone knows, there is a huge problem of rising childhood obesity rates. But food itself is not the problem. Real food is a source of pleasure and creativity, an expression of love as well as a matter of survival. We need to find or rediscover all this and cut our use of processed foods. I believe we can create an environment in which healthy cooking becomes natural behaviour, an instinct.


Below is a list (in two broad categories) of ways I think kitchens can make cooking and eating easier, more likely and more fun.


Cooking with children
Young children getting stuck in on the kitchen table.


SPATIAL DESIGN

  1. The kitchen should be the go-to spot for family gathering. Think of it as living room in which you cook. Comfy chairs, place to perch for non cooks, window seat, door into garden/terrace…

  2. At least one really low-level work surface, at perhaps 750mm / 30” height. Ideally make space under it for a pull-out, adjustable height stool. A five year old should be able to use this to roll pastry or pasta or stir a mixing bowl.

  3. If at all possible, have a rise and fall mechanism under one work surface so that everyone can prep food without strain. Ideally a surface should be approx. 100mm 4” from your flexed elbow measurement. Once installed this will become the most popular place, whether as a bar, work surface, servery or eating table for small kids. Also for a wheelchair user.

  4. Follow my dedicated work surface principle whereby surfaces are kept modest in size, allowing for efficient clusters. This minimises criss-crossing around the space, bringing order. It allows more than one cook to use the kitchen and works well in smaller kitchens.

  5. Use work surface materials to suggest, eg an end grain block for preparing food, stone or metal resting places for hots pans, laminate and materials like Corian or wood for small appliances; around the washing up area use ceramic, stainless steel or solid hardwoods with a high oil content that can cope with water.

  6. A sociable space needs to enable eye contact. Go for an island to cook and prepare on. You can also see better what kids are up to.

  7. Place the dining table in the arc of sun, with a second table or kitchen desk if possible tucked away a little.

  8. For safe storage of cooking tools, hang some on a gantry to keep them visible. You can bring them down to smaller children at their request (if safe!).

  9. Create a sacrifice cupboard. If you can, keep a low level cupboard door or maybe a pair available for toddlers and pre-schoolers to store their own kitchen gear. Old utensils and pots and pans let them feel familiar with tools and make great imitative playthings.

  10. Go for an unfitted kitchen approach if possible. This allows you alter the scale, type and location of furniture over time to stay in tune with your family’s lifestyle needs.



Cooking with kids
The pleasure of making a mess eating and helping yourself, aided by handy stools and different height surfaces


 SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND BEHAVIOURAL IDEAS

  1. Encourage the art of table arrangement and food display. It’s a source of much pleasure, table talk and artistic expression. It’s an easy for kids to gain approval when they have chosen the plates, laid cutlery, made a flower display or selected a tablecloth.

  2. Keep cooking vessels and utensils visible. Ceramic bowls made by potters have a prize location in our kitchen. Set out on three long shelves their colours and shapes provide constant pleasure. Matching a handmade bowl to a recipe is so rewarding. For example, a dark brown Tenmoku glaze looks beautiful with a dish that includes aubergines. A French onion tart in a rough terracotta tian, or Spanish Cazuela for a veggie stew: the happy combination makes the food taste even better.

  3. The larder cupboard or pantry should ideally be accessible to all. The sight of food provides a primal kind of security. It is also a prompt for your cooking. Obviously there might be some food you would rather your children didn’t spot but that shouldn’t be too difficult to take care of. Children should be able to see and reach the ingredients they might cook with, so I would suggest avoiding adults’ eye level wall cabinets. Full height, full depth cupboards turn out to be more efficient anyway for storage purposes as they are more capacious.

  4. The kitchen dresser (or hutch in the US) offers the perfect way to display fresh produce, family objects and children’s art. Food is a source of beauty. Have bowls full of seasonal fruits, or vegetables, or nuts, even eggs. You can see them as consumable art on the way to the stove, or table.

  5. Build up enthusiasm about food from visits to markets, through childrens’ storybooks, and by asking kids to help with fast growing veggies in your garden or balcony pots. A good way to introduce conversations about flavour is though herbs. Consider food dislikes as a topic for discussion and negotiation rather than opprobrium.

  6. Have a finished-dishes shelf to show off what has just come from the stove or chopping block. When you do this a few minutes before you eat, it acts as an effective appetiser and shows the dishes off as an achievement. Your child will feel the kudos.

  7. Recipes and books: have a pinboard or blackboard in the kitchen as well as a bookshelf to keep your recipes and notes. There are excellent ideas in national newspapers and free recipe cards in supermarkets. You might like to choose these together with your child. (Another blog will follow on recipes to cook with kids of different ages.)

  8. A sofa or large chair can be great for helping small children get dressed in the morning, also for reading to them in the evening and for collapsing into at the end of the day. This way you can stay in the kitchen longer.

  9. It is not a mistake to have a carpet in a kitchen, especially if there is space outside the culinary area for children to play. Carpets can generally be cleaned if necessary.

  10. Allowing mess is a favourite topic of mine. I love the idea of kids being able to use the kitchen like a workshop. There are issues to be managed, but it’s worth getting some pasta flour on the floor, some splashes around the sink, in order for children to feel this is their space too. Helen Russell’s new book, How to Raise a Viking, offers a fresh take giving kids freedom to play and experiment without fussing too much. The payoff comes sooner than you expect, when they really can cook.



Kids cooking in the kitchen
Our youngest grandson stirring a pancake mix in our own kitchen.

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