Children urged to cook to connect with culture


Chefs are encouraging kids to join their parents in the kitchen, to help them understand their history.

Food is a universal language that has always brought people together.

But food, and more specifically cooking it, can also help children connect with their cultures.

Chefs in Australia are encouraging parents to involve their children in the kitchen, to encourage their curiosity about family history.

"They learn more about themselves because they understand who they are and where they come from,” acclaimed chef and teacher Luciana Sampogna told SBS News. 

“Because food represents regions, represents struggles, represents war."

Kids encouraged to connect to cultures through cooking
Children take part in a class at Cucina Italiana cooking school.
Omar Dabbagh / SBS News

A staple in Sydney's inner west for 16 years, Sampogna’s Cucina Italiana cooking school has a strong focus on nurturing younger chefs. The lessons are taught in her home, using her family recipes, to people of all ages.

“It's also to teach other people to respect other cultures, because each culture is different, and we need to embrace our cultures, but also to understand the cultures, and understand the flavours,” Sampogna said.

We need to embrace our cultures ... and understand the flavours. 

“It’s so important that if you come from a particular part of the world you give that right recipe, that right authenticity because it’s a responsibility.”

Like mama used to make

Ms Sampogna’s 20-year-old son Luca Reeve also teaches at the school, alongside his full-time job in marketing.

“Honestly, the kids love it, and I know I loved it as a kid so it's really good to make people happy just the way my mum made me happy when she taught me how to make pasta,” he said. 

Luca Reeve leads a pasta making class for children at La Cucina Italiana Cooking School in Sydney. (SBS News/Omar Dabbagh)
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

During an after-school pasta making class, Reeve's students, aged between 9 and 13,  voice their approval of learning how to make the Italian staple from scratch and by hand.

"Sometimes when I feel a little bit angry, it helps me to get that anger out,” nine-year-old Georgina Peres said. 

“When you get messy it means you've had a really good time."

"We don't usually make pasta in my house, so it's nice,” Alexia Warner, 11, said. “It makes me definitely feel more Italian."

SBS Food: 10 lessons in how to cook Italian from Luciana Sampogna

Family connections

The philosophy that the kitchen is key to helping kids understand their history is shared by chef and entrepreneur Norma Dakhoul.

“It’s just easy to connect the food with the culture,” she told SBS News.

The Lebanese-born mother-of-two has had a passion for food since childhood, but only pursued it as a career in 2008.

She said teaching her now 19-year-old daughter Victoria how to cook traditional Lebanese cuisine encouraged her daughter to learn more about her Middle Eastern ancestry.

Kids encouraged to connect to cultures through cooking
Chef and entrepreneur Norma Dakhoul with daughter Victoria.
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

Norma shares stories with Victoria about Lebanon as they cook.

"I'm passing on my heritage to her, through food,” Dakhoul said.

I'm passing on my heritage to her, through food.

“It's important to me to maintain that connection with where I am now, living in Australia, and where I was born ... it is something which is actually really dear to my heart."

“I’m hoping she will pass that on to her children one day.”

'Fabric of society'

Jean-Luc Tan, the founder of VIVE Cooking School in Sydney, believes food is the “perfect tool” to help children “enhance, push and empower their creativity”.

"Food really brings people together. It's cement. It bonds people. It's the foundation, the fabric of our society,” he told SBS News.

“I strongly encourage parents to get their kids to cook and to learn about the food."

Born to Cambodian chefs in the French city of Lyon, it wasn't until Tan moved to Australia that he fully appreciated his parents passion for food.

“I was blessed and lucky to be able to share food with my family,” he said.

“To sit down, to spend quality time, I truly believe that food is an expression of culture. It's rewarding, you know what you eat, and you share food with the people you love, families and friends. That's priceless."

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