Local woman helps kids to get cooking

Vancouver program teaches youngsters how to safely prepare, serve tasty, nutritious food

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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The Kids Cooking Corner

See what a class is like at Vancouver's first cooking school for kids.

See what a class is like at Vancouver's first cooking school for kids.

Among the lessons to be learned at The Kids Cooking Corner: Always check the label on food coloring.

“Our red velvet cupcakes turned out to be copper velvet cupcakes,” said 11-year-old Cody Payne, after his cooking team accidentally added yellow to the batter.

The Kids Cooking Corner

The Kids Cooking Corner in Vancouver offers classes for children as young as 3 years old. Most classes are capped at eight students. Classes are $25 for kids ages 3-6, and $32 for those ages 7 and older. Four-class monthly memberships are available for $79 for kids 5 and younger and $99 for those 6 and older. Check the website for specials.

Owner Heidi O’Connor also offers a 17-week Around the World series, which gives kids the opportunity to explore cuisine from 17 different countries. Around the World costs $37 per class or $500 for the entire series. The Kids Cooking Corner hosts birthday parties, as well.

To learn more about The Kids Cooking Corner, go to http://www.thekid... or call 503-381-0933.

But the cupcakes will still taste good, and a generous amount of frosting will do wonders for their appearance, surmised Cody, a fifth-grader at Hockinson Intermediate School.

He was among 11 aspiring Bobby Flays and Rachael Rays at a recent Kids Cooking Corner camp. The school, owned by Vancouver resident Heidi O’Connor, opened its doors Dec. 1 and caters to children ages 3 and up. It emphasizes food safety, education and etiquette, as well as meal preparation.

The Kids Cooking Corner is based out of a historic home off Northeast 78th Street and Padden Parkway in Vancouver that O’Connor is leasing. The main floor features brightly colored areas for cooking and prep work, and a dining room strung with rainbow-hued paper lanterns. That’s where kids practice their table setting and napkin folding and enjoy the fruits of their culinary labors.

Students are divided into four age groups, and classes meet throughout the week. During the winter break, O’Connor offered a series of three-hour cooking camps.

One camp session featured a menu of red (or copper) velvet cupcakes and homemade pizzas. As dough for the main course rose in the bread machine, the young chefs, clad in The Kids Cooking Corner aprons, got to work on dessert.

The class split into two groups, and each crowded around a stand mixer to make the cupcake batter.

“You always start at the lowest speed,” O’Connor instructed. “And always turn off the mixer when you’re adding ingredients.”

In went the butter and sugar.

“You’re always looking to see what the next step is,” O’Connor coached. “You’ve got your sugar mixing with your butter. What’s next?”

Colin Obot, 10, hustled over to consult the recipe, then got the eggs and vanilla ready to add to the mixing bowl.

Colin was practically a kitchen veteran by this point. He had taken O’Connor’s holiday cookie and breakfast camps, and planned to return to learn to make New Year’s Eve appetizers.

Colin, a fifth-grader at La Center Elementary School, said his parents had big plans for putting his new skills to use. He was in charge of making Sunday brunch, and had in mind an ambitious menu of omelets, pigs in a blanket and birds in a nest (a basket of golden shoestring potatoes cradling an egg).

Being able to replicate the dishes at home is part of the fun of cooking camp, agreed 10-year-old Shelby Anders.

“It’s been really fun because everything you make is really good, and she gives you recipes so you can make it again at home,” said Shelby, a fifth-grader at Harry S Truman Elementary School in Vancouver.

The interactivity is also a big part of the appeal, said 10-year-old Marissa Tehrani from Camas. She took the class with her sister, 8-year-old Audrey Tehrani.

“It’s fun because everyone gets to do everything,” Marissa said.

It’s also a chance to make new friends from different schools, said Nicole Gilstrap, 9, a fourth-grader at Helen Baller Elementary School in Camas.

Nicole used to take cooking classes at Around the Table in Camas. That establishment recently closed, so Nicole was happy to find a new place to continue her instruction.

It was just such a void O’Connor was hoping to fill when she started The Kids Cooking Corner as a supplement to the culinary education children get at home and in school. It also offered O’Connor, who has been cooking since childhood, a chance at a new career.

Laid off in April from her job as a regional manager for a paint sundry company, O’Connor was brainstorming her next step when the idea for The Kids Cooking Corner began to grow.

“I was having a pity party with myself. I was thinking, I’m 42. What am I going to do? I always had Food Network on in the background, and was cooking with my kids. That’s where it started,” she said.

Learning to cook is about more than food, O’Connor said. It’s a way for kids to learn math, science and world history and develop healthy habits that will serve them well in life. She’s putting in a garden and chicken coop behind the house, so this summer the kids will get the farm-to-table experience. She just added a gluten-free class, and hopes to collaborate with sewing and art instructors to expand the scope of what The Kids Cooking Corner offers.

O’Connor hopes to turn The Kids Cooking Corner into a nonprofit and wants to work with youths with special needs and foster kids.

“I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to learn this lifelong skill,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.