We know just how much little ones – and not so little ones – enjoy the CBeebies I Can Cook programme, so when we had the chance to chat to Lakeland about their collaboration with the show, we jumped at it!
Lakeland's Windermere HQ combines a huge store with their offices, customer service department and testing kitchens - the corporate side of things tantalizingly visible from the shop floor behind doors labelled 'behind the scenes'.
Sneak peak time...
The company is of course best known for producing household gadgetry for adults – their catalogue is oft referred to as 'kitchen porn' and their 'customer ambassador' is Wendy Miranda something of a celebrity.
And indeed, walking through the Lakeland café with Wendy was a bit like trailing in the wake of a superstar, as people elbowed their companions and put down their tea cups to stop and stare. Many of them were, to my surprise, enjoying the Lakeland store as part of a Lake District holiday - the shop is reportedly the area's second most popular tourist attraction, with more than half a million visitors a year!
"We do get a lot of holidaymakers," Wendy tells me, "The husbands pretend to drop the wives off here whilst they go walking, but they always end up coming in for a look around themselves!"
But it was the younger customers I was interested in during my trip, and what had made Lakeland produce a range specifically aimed at preschoolers? To find out, I spoke to director of buying and dad-of-four Matthew Canwell.
"For us, the whole aim of our business is to get people cooking," he said "And we want to help them with that as much as we can."
Matthew said they were determined to make sure the I Can Cook range offered quality, functional products which were proper kitchen tools rather than toys.
Indeed, the primary coloured range definitely has adult appeal as well as being child friendly (I am the owner of a couple of their I Can Cook spatulas which I didn't even realise were meant for children...).
Setting foot in the hallowed 'test kitchens' at Lakeland, it was obvious they take their product testing seriously. Here, all the latest gadgets and gizmos are put through their paces. The air was heady with the smell of freshly baked cake, and the trialling of top-secret products I am not allowed to mention were in full swing.
The room was, in both proportion and outfitting, a fully functioning kitchen just like you would find at home - which was actually a bit odd but kind of added to the whole 'simplifying family life' lifestyle which Lakeland promotes.
Inside Lakeland's testing kitchen
"Our goal has always been to offer good quality produce which gets – and allows - children to make and bake with their parents," Matthew says, "To enjoy the kitchen and enjoy good food. Children love cooking because it appeals to their innate curiosity. Baking is tactile and sensual – something going in a gloopy mess and coming out as a bun!"
Enjoying food and being aware of it was something Lakeland applauded I Can Cook for and spurred their interest in producing the range.
"We would never look to put a brand name on something just to make a sale, and obviously Endemol (who make I can cook for the BBC) did not want to stick the I Can Cook brand on just anything," says Matthew. Lakeland were keen on the the whole I Can Cook ethos – educating children about proper cooking and examining where produce comes from, as well encouraging them to be really hands on in the kitchen at home.
The company had, Matthew said, done a few other 'kids products' over the years, but they never proved as 'successful as we thought they'd be; "Customer feedback told us that parents were baking with their kids, but the adults were only interested in products which were not 'childish' – things they could put in their kitchen rather than in the toy box," he explained.
With the target audience of I Can Cook three to five years old, testing was done by both Lakeland and Endemol. Lakeland employers took the range – which includes whisks and scrapers, silicone cake cases, spoons, mixing bowls, safety scissors and a mini grating machine - home to be trialled by their own children, and youngsters well beyond the target age enjoyed the equipment – as did their parents.
"The products aren't redundant if the kids lose interest," Matthew says, explaining that parents would often turn to the smaller sized spatulas and whisks for ease of use when making one-person dishes. Something that buyer Veronica was very keen to be the case with the range: "I've always been keen that children's cooking equipment should not be plaything – they should be fun, but there should be serious end result," she told me.
"I Can Cook aside, programmes like Junior Bake Off have also really captured kids imaginations when it comes to cooking," says Matthew, adding that the various cooking shows have produced some unlikely heroes for youngsters. "My son was amazed when I told him I'd seen Mary Berry through work once," he laughs, "He was so impressed as he knew her as a 'celeb chef!"
Back with Wendy in the Lakeland cafe that afternoon, she tells me she thinks cooking has come full circle: "Grannies are baking again, families are baking together," she says, "Even students are realising it is 'cool' to be able to cook."
Indeed – it does seem that everyone is rediscovering cookery. The elderly taxi driver who dropped me off at Lakeland HQ that morning had asked if I was going shopping for kitchen things. I explained I was a bit rubbish in the culinary department. "But everyone can cook these days," he said, eying up the crowded store, "Even me. I bought a slow cooker here in the sales. I can cook anything now!"
If that's really the case, I think I'm going to have to get my nine-year-old to give me some lessons...
More on Parentdish:
Why we love I Can Cook
WIN I Can Cook kitchenware from Lakeland
Do your children enjoy I Can Cook? Do you bake a lot with your youngsters at home?