In my teaching kitchen, I watch adults enjoy experiment, but seek success. They want to acquire experience, but to come away, ultimately, with an arsenal of tested ideas. Kids, however, don’t care as much about culinary convention or precedent. Adults want rules for avoiding costly, disappointing mistakes. Kids just want permission to make them, again.
I was reminded of this last weekend, teaching a family of four, including two smart, attentive young girls. One task was to create spice salts for seasoning ground lamb. Like all of my classes, we were not locked into any specific plans for serving the lamb, so its preparation needed to be delicious and versatile.
We began with a hunt for items from the girls’ pantry that made them curious, and likely had never seen much play. Eleven-year-old Ella pulled out a small sachet of pink peppercorns. In a mortar and pestle, she crushed the peppercorns into dust and shards, then added salt. It’s fair to say we adults embraced Ella’s task with some caution. We love to foster our kids’ original ideas, then we ready ourselves to protect them if something goes wrong.
So when Ella’s sister, fourteen-year-old Audrey, fried some of the lamb with the pink peppercorn salt (hereby known as “Ella Salt”), we adults found ourselves disarmed by how phenomenal it was. Spicy, floral, complex, unexpected. We ate that lamb with our fingers out of the mixing bowl, through the rest of the lesson. It paired beautifully with lentils and farro, too. We sprinkled the pink peppercorn salt over everything, after that, excited to see where else it could lead. We took real satisfaction not in making something, but in curiosity well played. The spice salt remains next to their stove, ready to follow the next kid-like impulse.