At Wakeman Town Farm’s recent cooking class for aspiring young chefs, the boys got things rolling — with rolling pins — from left: Dylan Edery, 5, Jack Holler, 5, and Everett Wersberg, 6. / Photos by Gretchen Webster
Getting the right amount of flour to make cookies is Lillie Fields, 6, left, while Emily Tinoco, 7 watches.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Youngsters recently took over the Wakeman Town Farm kitchen for a fledgling foray into the culinary world.

Five kindergartners and first graders whipped up enthusiasm for the aptly named “Spring Cooking with the Minis” class. The young chefs would be tackling a menu of chocolate-chip cookies, cheese-filled calzones and fresh-vegetable crudités.

Ingredients had already been assembled by chefs Kathleen Benson and Laura Weinman in preparation for the cooking and life lessons the children would learn that day. 

Wakeman Town Farm chefs Laura Weinman, left, and Kathleen Benson prepare ingredients for the recent “Spring Cooking with the Minis” class for kindergarten and first-grade children.
Photo at left: Showing kindergartner Jack Holler how to use an electric mixer is chef Laura Weinman, while Dylan Edery supervises. At right: Emily Tinoco reaches deep into a flour bin for the cookie-baking project, with Lillie Fields.

“Chef Kathleen” worked with the two girls in the class, Lillie Fields, 6, and Emily Tinoco, 7, and “Chef Laura” with Dylan Edery, 5, Jack Holler, 5, and Everett Wersberg, 6.

Benson is the owner of a business, “Culinary Kids,” and also teaches several cooking classes for children at Wakeman Town Farm. Weinman, a volunteer and trained chef, also is teaching a spring workshop for adults, “Baking with Citrus.” Other classes for adults at the farm, which sell out quickly, include canning and preserving classes, farm dinners and a class called “Cooking and Cocktails.”

Click here for a list of the community farm’s upcoming culinary programs and other activities.

In the “Mini” class, the two chefs used fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens and fresh spinach from its garden for the class, and planned to collect scraps from the projects for compost to bolster the farm’s gardens.

It’s that natural cycle of life on a farm that attracted Weinman to volunteer at Wakeman after moving to Westport from California. “I just fell in love with the farm,” she said.

Everett Wersberg applies himself to rolling out the dough.

As Benson prepared ingredients for the class recipes, she said the goal was for the youngsters to the make a savory dish, a sweet and a baked item, as they do for every class in the session.

First, they work on cookies that children love to bake (and eat) before they leave class. To do that, the kids are shown how to break an egg, use a mixer and let the cookie dough “take a rest” before baking. Benson asks them what “the secret ingredient” is in the cookies, and the girls have already learned the answer — “vanilla.”

The class involves more than basic cooking, but also a bit about food science, health and environmental issues such as composting and recycling, knife skills and more, Benson said, presented in an age-appropriate way for very young participants. The farm also offers cooking classes for older children in grades one to six and a “Summer Culinary Camp.”

“Cooking brings people together,” Benson said. “The goal is for them to learn and to have fun.”

Halfway through the class, Weinman took the children outside to see the farm animals and run around a bit, while her teaching partner prepared ingredients for the next items on the menu — calzones and crudités.

As she prepared the ngredients in five parts — one for each child — Benson, who worked many years in luxury hotels and restaurants all over the country, explained why she teaches at Wakeman Town Farm.

“It’s a learning environment … Here the children can see the chickens that laid the eggs, make honey and maple syrup. It’s a big advantage to do this on the farm … I feel very passionate about this.”

The children run in from their outside excursion and take up where they left off, this time baking calzones. They love using a rolling pin to roll out the dough, and especially stretching it hand to hand before fashioning it into the shape of a calzone.

“I like to make pizza and doughnuts,” Jack said as he steadily rolled the dough back and forth, while Emily named cupcakes and dumplings as her favorite things to bake.

Lillie liked it all. “I like to try new foods,” she said.

For Benson, one of the most important aspects of teaching children to cook is for them “to learn that cooking is fun.” And she hopes that parents will learn something about cooking with children, too.

“Give them a chance to explore. Let them try new things,” she said. “It’s okay for kids to be in the kitchen.”

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.

Demonstrating their dough-handling dexterity are Lillie Fields, left, and Emily Tinoco.