My name is Mira Jarrar, and I'm from Jordan, a country in the Middle East. I started my business, Mira's Young Chefs (MYC), a few years ago. MYC offers hands-on, educational and fun cooking classes for kids, taking them on an interactive food adventure by teaching them different international dishes and exposing them to a variety of ingredients and cooking techniques.
A Love of Preparing, Cooking and Sharing Food
I come from a family that appreciates and enjoys the pleasures of cooking, eating and sitting around the table, and sharing a meal with family and friends. My mother used to impress people with her scrumptious dishes prepared with love, and her pantry, full of delicious pickles, olives, makdoos (a pickled eggplant, vegetable and walnut mix), dried sour plums (aracia in Arabic) and sour plum and pomegranate molasses (my mother's recipe is so popular that my father and I now make and sell these molasses). Friends and relatives would look forward to getting their annual supply of these goodies. I use many of my mom's innovative, original recipes in my classes.
My father was my mom's greatest assistant. He was responsible for grocery shopping and had special tasks in the kitchen. It was his responsibility to core courgettes and carrots in preparation for stuffing, de-thorn akkoub (gundelia) and fresh sour grape juice from the grape vines in our garden. As you can imagine, growing up in this family instilled in me not only a love of cooking, but of sharing, learning and preparing food for others. I was always by my mother's side to learn everything she could teach me. In fact, my children were close by as well. I remember my son's kindergarten teacher would ask him every morning what he was going to have for dinner when he got home. He knew the answer because he would pass by his grandmother's house every morning and ask about the day's meal. His teacher was amazed that he enjoyed eggplant, cauliflower, squash and okra, and was even more surprised that he used to help in the preparation of all these dishes!
Combining a Love of Cooking with a Passion to Teach
A few years ago, I started thinking about combining my love of cooking with my passion to share and teach. I saw how my children enjoyed eating the healthy food they had helped to prepare. I thought - why not give other kids an opportunity to enjoy preparing delicious healthy food that they will enjoy eating it as well? It was so simple! That's how the idea of Mira's Young Chefs was born. Using my bachelor's degree in education, I thought carefully about the objectives of each lesson and what I wanted children to gain. I enriched my classes with a variety of surprising and fun activities, some of them inspired by Jamie Oliver himself.
My idea started small but I built on it with the support of my family and friends. They gave me advice on my marketing and business plans and helped spread the word about my new business to their families and friends, in order to bring in clients. I target 8- to 18-year-old boys and girls, and mainly hold the lessons in my kitchen (sometimes I am asked by schools and summer camps/clubs to bring the classes to their premises). Since starting my business 3 years ago, 90 kids have joined. I offer different courses, with 16 recipes per course. Each lesson contains a full course meal (appetizer, main dish and dessert, for example).
The results were unexpected, even to me! Most children seemed to have an aversion to one or more types of vegetables when they joined my class. Learning about the health benefits of different foods and the variety of ways they can be used in meals, encouraged the kids to step outside their comfort zone. Working with the foods - peeling, chopping and grating - made them more open to trying them. They insisted on taking away samples for their parents to taste. The first group I hosted was so proud of their accomplishments that they invited me after the course ended to be the guest of honor at a fancy dinner. The whole menu was prepared by these Young Chefs from the recipes they learned in my course. I was so touched and really proud!
MYC also managed to break some cultural barriers. It's actually not common in our culture for men to go into the kitchen to prepare meals. MYC attracted male children and teenagers who were interested in the hands-on, participatory approach I was using, also a bit of a novelty in our part of the world, where students are many times passive learners, especially in schools.
Building Self-esteem, Confidence and a Sense of Responsibility
The feedback from parents has been amazing. They report that their children have increased self-esteem and confidence in their cooking skills. The classes have instilled in them a sense of responsibility and a better understanding of the work that goes into planning, preparing and cooking meals as well as the clean-up afterwards. I even receive feedback from grandparents, which is especially important to me, as the relationship that my children have with my mom and dad is the cornerstone of this project.
About the Author: Mira Jarrar is from Jordan and 39 years old. She has a husband and three boys, a bachelor in education, and conducts a small business (Mira's Young Chefs) that gives kids an opportunity to enjoy preparing delicious healthy food so they will enjoy eating it as well.
Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MirasYoungChefs/
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