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TriBeCa Kids Give Local Chefs a Hand in the Kitchen

By Julie Shapiro | January 24, 2012 3:01pm

TRIBECA — Elementary students got a taste of TriBeCa's restaurant scene with a hands-on cooking lesson from some of the neighborhood's top chefs.

The students from P.S. 234 and P.S. 150 took a field trip Tuesday to Roc, the Italian restaurant at Greenwich and Duane streets, where owner Rocco Cadolini taught them how to make their own skewers of chicken, sausage and vegetables.

"It's important that kids know about food," Cadolini said, "so instead of going to McDonald's and eating food that's not healthy, they get interested in tasting good food and vegetables."

Some of the first- through fifth-grade students shied away from touching the shiny raw chicken liver Cadolini offered for their skewers, but others reached out eagerly to spear it.

The skewers the students made at Roc Jan. 24, 2012.
The skewers the students made at Roc Jan. 24, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"I really want to taste chicken liver," said Robert Vanderhorst, 9, a third-grader at P.S. 234, which is just down the block from Roc.

"I've seen this show 'Bizarre Foods' [on the Travel Channel], and he eats everything — even frog hearts!"

Tuesday morning's cooking lesson was the kickoff event for 2012's Taste of Tribeca, the annual food festival that raises money for P.S. 234 and P.S. 150. Taste of Tribeca brings in tens of thousands of dollars each year for arts and enrichment programs at the schools, and last year more than 70 chefs donated their time to prepare dishes.

This year, the event will be held May 19.

In addition to Cadolini and his chef Patrick Nuti, two other local cooks shared their kitchen skills with the students. Jehangir Mehta, owner of Mehtaphor on Duane Street, taught the kids to roll their own avocado and lettuce wraps, while Gayle Aschenbrenner, founder of Mrs. Cupcake on Murray Street, taught the art of decorating mini cupcakes.

Mehta helped the young chefs don gloves and large white hats, and encouraged them to use their hands to mash together avocado, tomatoes, cilantro and more to make the filling for the lettuce wraps.

Although a few students predicted they wouldn't like avocado — and they were right — Mehta was glad that everyone took at least a small bite.

"It's a way to make the child try things," Mehta said of cooking lessons. "It's perfectly fine if they don't like it. But at least they have the courage to try — and that makes them try other things in life."

Many of the budding chefs said they had never even seen raw meat before.

"They were gooey," Sadie Burke, 10, a fifth-grader at P.S. 150, said of the chunks of raw chicken breast and sausage that she carefully skewered.

"I rarely see it at home," she continued. "My kitchen is really small, so there's not enough room for me to be in there while my mom and dad are cooking."

Taj Bernath, 8, a third-grader at P.S. 234, saw the cooking lessons as a good preparation for her future.

"It's really nice to get to learn how to use your hands and get better with making food," she said, "so when you grow up it's easier for you to cook for your children and your family."