Week 7: Stir fry

We had a very special guest in Kitchen Possible this week. Accomplished chef Stephen Fillanders (former corporate chef for Jean Georges, recent executive chef and Partner at Intro Chicago, and genuinely awesome human being) joined us as we made stir fry, and the kids could not have been more impressed. During the demo, the kids stared intently as Chef Stephen swiftly chopped and sliced ingredients for our dishes, and you could tell they were planning to show him the best of what they'd learned over the last 6 weeks. One of the kids proudly came to the front of the class to show the chef how we chop garlic with a fork. It was so much fun seeing them show off for a guest, and it's so cool that they had the opportunity to.

This week's recipe called for new ingredients, like sesame oil, green onion and fresh ginger, and by the top we finished the demo, the kids were rearing to go. Each team chose either chicken or ground pork and rice or noodles before getting to work mixing their stir fry sauce. After smelling and tasting their new ingredients to understand what they were working with, they adjusted their sauces to achieve the right level of spice and sweetness, toning down the soy sauce saltiness when necessary. I love hearing them compare new ingredients and flavors to ones they know, like toasted sesame seeds that taste a little like peanuts, or ginger that's a bit like "that red spicy gum."

After seeing Chef Stephen slice bell peppers and zucchini so beautifully in our demo, they gave extra attention to their own when it was their turn. The results were impressive! Their vegetables were more consistent and thinly sliced than in any of our previous weeks. As they sauteed them, one brave team of 3 asked the chef for a quick lesson in flipping their vegetables in their pan. After a few pro tips and a little help, several kids gave it a try and succeeded! A few vegetables were sacrificed in the process, but it was worth it to see them take on a new challenge and succeed.

Once they let their sauces thicken and they added their final touches, the kids scrambled to make sample plates for Chef Stephen. The poor guy consumed a LOT of stir fry and gave awesome feedback. No doubt about it, the kids felt incredibly proud of their hard work in the kitchen. This pride is exactly what Kitchen Possible is all about - showing these kids that when they set their mind to something and work really hard to make it happen, the result is something they can truly feel great about.

As the kids sat down to eat their food (which they loved), we talked about using the cooking model out in the real world. Chef Stephen shared his journey toward opening his own restaurant, S.K.Y., which will be opening in Pilsen nearby Gads Hill Center in November. He tied the planning, revising, and constant hard work that he and his wife Seon have been working through to our "5 Steps to Cook Anything." Despite some curveball questions from the kids (like whether or not he's married to his wife, if he plays sports, and if they could come cook at his restaurant) he teed up some really meaty life lessons:

Life lessons from the Kitchen:

1. One of our teams this week struggled with julienning their zucchini. Rather than risk their fingers or waste too much time, they changed course and opted for larger slices of zucchini. This is something we have to do in life all the time! When things aren't going as planned, sometimes we have to CHANGE the plan. The key is embracing and owning it. There's nothing wrong with sliced zucchini in stir fry! In fact, most would never know that wasn't the plan from the start.

2. The pan flipping some of the kids learned from Chef Stephen was definitely no easy undertaking, and he taught them well. But they only learned this new skill because they asked for a lesson. And with that, they had a trained professional literally holding their hands and guiding them through the new motion. Outside of the kitchen, asking for help is often the very best thing we can do when working toward something great. Sure, the kids might have figured out how to flip their veggies without the help, they would have thrown most of their food on the floor first.




Kitchen Possible takes place at Gads Hill Center for youth in their Junior Building Leaders program.