LINCOLN PARK — Things are cooking at Oui Chef.
Former pastry chef Laura Ragano opened her storefront devoted to teaching kids to cook about six months ago, and the business is rising.
Ragano set out to create classes for kids ranging in age from 1½ to 18 years, and she said she's been already pleased with the results, "especially the younger set."
Ragano said, during a break in a class for 1½ to 2 years this week, that she wasn't certain she was going to be able to model lesson plans for toddlers.
"Can I do this?" Ragano said. "I can do this."
What even parents sometimes forget is how capable kids are even at 1½ years — and how eager they are to help and share (most of the time).
On Wednesday, in what was a fairly typical 1-hour-and-15-minute class for a set of triplets and two other 2-year-olds, accompanied by moms or nannies, the ingredient of the week was ginger, and kids went about joining in mixing the batter for molasses spice cookies and setting them out on baking pans.
Ragano said another thing that is easy to forget is that little kids sometimes don't like to get their hands dirty, and they had to take a few breaks to wash hands when they got a little too grubby with batter — not that anyone's complaining about cooks with clean hands.
While the cookies baked, Ragano gathered the kids together to taste ginger in its various forms — starting with slivers of sliced ginger root.
"Ginger can be a little spicy, so if you don't like it you can totally spit it out," Ragano warned. "I know," she added, "the chocolate tasting was much better."
Responses got progressively better for pickled ginger for sushi — "I could eat this stuff all day," Ragano said — and crystallized ginger.
"Even though this is boiled in sugar, it's still spicy," Ragano said.
After that, it was back to the preparation table to sample the finished cookies — blow on them to cool them fresh out of the oven — along with some ginger tea.
Kids even help with the cleanup at Oui Chef, including 2-year-olds.
Kids' classes — from Wiggleworms to pottery, art, sports and beyond — are a cottage industry, but Ragano granted when she opened Oui Chef that cooking classes for kids were something new. Yet she said they've proved a hit with preschoolers as well as afterschoolers.
A class schedule is found online. There are 18 classes for different age groups and skill levels, capped at six students each, and prices range from $128 a month for weekly 1-hour-and-15-minute classes to $28 for one-hour single sessions.
"It's been wonderful," Ragano said, "everything that I wanted to see in the kids and their learning."