Tiny Fingers: The Pros and Cons of Child Labor in the Kitchen

I have never had a kitchen staff before.  For as many years as I have been cooking, I have been my own dishwasher, prepped my own ingredients, cooked, and plated.  When I started at Cafe Willow, I was informed that I was to have a staff.  I was told they were short, not officially on payroll, and that some of them had tenuous grasp on the English language.  In short, my staff was to be our owner Catherine's children.  "We're big supporters of keeping kids involved. They love to help." she said.

    I don't have any children of my own.  I don't generally come into contact with them in my day to day.  Here are a few things I knew for sure about children going into this:  Children almost always have dirty hands.  Children have generally short attention spans.  Children should not be allowed to play with knives or fire and cannot be trusted near chocolate.  These things being true, I did not have especially high hopes for my young charges.  But free labor is free labor and I make a lot of dirty dishes.

    After my first day of cooking, I retired to my quarters exhausted.  I had absolutely terrorized the kitchen, dirtied every dish and utensil I could think of, and spilled a number of foodstuffs on a number of unique surfaces.  It was kind of embarrassing.  That night I cried myself to sleep, dreading the loathsome tidying that the morning would hold.  I awoke to screaming, crashes, and an absolutely spotless kitchen.  In the wee hours of the morning, under the direction of their wrangler (or babysitter as it were), my half pint helpers had cleaned the entire kitchen, done the dishes, and eaten some of the leftovers taking up space in my cooler.  I was elated!  Then I had a cup of coffee, put my glasses on, and woke up.  In the harsh light of consciousness, it was apparent that things were not as tidy as they had first seemed.

    Some of the dishes had spots on them.  I could not find the gadget I had used to drain pasta the night before.  And while the counters were spotless, the floors seemed somehow worse off.  Whatever these kids were being paid, it was too much.  Or was it?  First off, they were working for yogurt and slices of fruit, a minimum wage for which has not been established.  Secondly, the kitchen WAS cleaner.  It only took a few minutes to clean the spotted dishes and tidy the floor.  The pasta draining doohickey was only hiding in the dishwasher.  Overall, I had to admit, I was pleased.

    It has been a learning experience.  Asking an 8 year old and her even younger cohorts to make gnocchi was a flour covered, and somewhat stressful gaffe.  But in the end, the dumplings were only a little doughy and unsightly.  Their tardiness in setting the dinner table gave me time to remember that meat should be rested before it is sliced.  I would recommend, for anyone who has the means, a staff of tiny kitchen helpers.  I am learning to communicate with children and delegating some of my busy work.  The children are, perhaps more importantly than helping me, becoming engaged in their experience of food and nutrition.  I think those kids deserve dessert tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment