Pascal Simon's Online Cooking Camp Gets Kids To Make Meals For Their Families : Coronavirus Updates Online instruction is hard, right? Well there's a teacher—a chef, actually—who appears to have cracked the code. She says her cooking classes for kids work better now than when they were in person.

A Cooking Camp Chef's Recipe For Remote Education: Make It Ambitious

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It is hard to get kids to learn online, but a chef in Austin, Texas, is having success when it comes to remote cooking classes. Here's reporter Ben James.

BEN JAMES, BYLINE: At age 8, Juliet Wilson is the youngest cook in the online summer camp known as Dinner Club.

JULIET: Are we only making the chicken fajitas, the tortillas and the guacamole and pico?

PASCAL SIMON: Only. Yes, Juliet. We're only making the tortillas, the guacamole, the pico de gallo and the fajitas.

WILEY: (Laughter).

JAMES: That kid cracking up is Wiley, my 10-year-old. He's also part of Dinner Club. He stands in our kitchen in western Massachusetts, laptop at the far end of the counter. And the woman with the Zoom-inflected German accent is Pascal Simon, known as Chef Pascal by the students she individually welcomes to the class.

SIMON: And Adelaide is here. Hi, Adelaide.

JAMES: Fish tacos, Greek salad with falafel and Indian butter chicken are all also on the menu this week. Simon runs the school out of her home in Austin, Texas. She has kids signing up from Puerto Rico, all the way to Vancouver.

SIMON: We're going to get started with three cups of flour into your mixing bowl, please.

JAMES: Some mixing, some kneading, and Wiley peers dubiously at his tortilla dough. He holds it up to the screen and unmutes himself.

WILEY: Is this good?

SIMON: Wiley, when you press into it - like, imagine this is like a little baby bird, and you just very gently press into it. Don't poke it; just very gently. Does it bounce back?

WILEY: Sort of.

SIMON: OK. Sort of is not quite ready, so keep kneading it a little bit longer.

HAZEL: Pascal, could you please slow down? My cat just got out, and I need to grab him.

JAMES: That's Hazel Griffin, age 10, also from Austin. It's the third week of Dinner Club for Hazel and her 12-year-old brother Eamon. Hazel says cooking can be really hard.

HAZEL: But if you have a partner and you guys get along, then it can be a lot easier.

JAMES: While the tortilla dough's proofing, Wiley chops tomatoes and onions for the pico de gallo.

WILEY: How much cumin do we put in?

SIMON: A pinch or two of cumin, a pinch or two of salt, and then...

JAMES: Chef Pascal has mastered the art of answering the exact same question 17 times. She's been teaching in-person baking classes to kids for a decade. Up until March, it was more like...

SIMON: Cupcakes, Pop-Tarts - cute stuff - French macaroons.

JAMES: Then came the pandemic. The Monday after shutdown, Simon announced online classes for any kid that signed up, initially for free. She'd never used Zoom. Over the next two months, she reinvented her business.

SIMON: Who needs more cupcakes? Who needs a week-long of cupcakes?

JAMES: She started focusing on dinner. This meant knives, hot pans, safe food-handling. And teaching remotely meant kids had to discover their own kitchens.

SIMON: The biggest surprise for me was how effective it actually is to be teaching cooking and baking online. You forget that there is a screen at some point because we're literally together in all of our kitchens.


JAMES: Back in our kitchen, Wiley's frying the peppers and onions for the fajitas.

WILEY: Oh, my. This smells so good.

JAMES: Chef Pascal's recipe for online education - make it real, make it hands-on and make it ambitious enough for kids like Hazel Griffin.

HAZEL: It feels like you've accomplished a huge thing.

JAMES: And our dinner that night? I'm not cutting my son any slack here - it was absolutely delicious.

For NPR News, I'm Ben James.


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