These five kiddos have a passion for cooking. Try out some of their favorite dishes – pot stickers, cacciucco and an Oreo milkshake.
Photography by John Michael Simpson
Siblings John Germain, 11, and Anna Jane Germain, 9, relish preparing – and eating – Chinese, Japanese and Thai foods. “Sushi is the most fun because you can add whatever you want into it, and it’s more creative,” John says. Anna Jane especially loves making pot stickers. “Because you roll them, and they are easy to make,” she explains.
The cooking duo attends Woods Charter School and also enjoy taking cooking classes with chef Clare Reding of Circle City Supper Club in Pittsboro. “In these classes, we have learned knife skills, different ways to cut and prepare ingredients, different ways to cook food and the importance of salt and acid,” John says. “We have also learned baking skills, including the importance of properly measuring ingredients and why and how things rise.”
John’s kitchen skills developed in a relatively short time. “John has been with us since the start of Circle City in fall of 2021, and Anna Jane joined us in the fall 2022 semester,” Clare says. In addition to regular classes, the pair have spent time at Circle City’s summer camps, learning about local ingredients and gardening. “I am happy that I started to learn cooking skills so early because I will be able to use them in the future,” John says.
His next culinary goal is to learn to make great Vietnamese food. “There are very few things I don’t like,” John says, “But one of my favorite foods is pho.” Anna Jane’s ambition is – perhaps unsurprisingly – to make what she calls “the perfect dumpling.”
POT STICKERS (ADAPTED FROM ALLRECIPES.COM)
Serves 6 people
Filling to pre-cook:
1 lb. ground pork
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup green onions, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely minced
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups green cabbage, finely chopped
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, or more as needed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil as needed, divided
- Place all ingredients for the filling in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly. Cover bowl with plastic and place in refrigerator to chill for about an hour.
- Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour in 1 cup hot water. Stir until the mixture forms a shaggy dough.
- Transfer dough to a clean work surface. Flour your hands before kneading the dough. Work the dough for about 3 to 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. If dough seems too sticky, add a small amount of flour (up to an additional ½ cup) and continue to knead. Wrap the dough ball in plastic, and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
- Afterward, divide the dough ball into four equal pieces. Cover three pieces with a dish cloth while you work the first piece. Roll the dough into a small log about the thickness of a thumb (about ¾ inch). Divide the log into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a thin 3 ½-inch circle on a lightly floured surface to form the pot sticker wrappers. Repeat steps with the remaining dough pieces.
- Lightly moisten the edges of a wrapper with your wet finger. Place a small scoop of the precooked mixture onto the center of a wrapper. Fold up the two sides and pinch together in the center. Pinch together the remaining edges, forming “pleats” along one side. Tap the pot sticker on the work surface to slightly flatten the bottom; form a slight curve in it (so it stands upright in the pan). Transfer to a floured plate. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place about six or seven pot stickers in the hot oil, flat side down. Cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes.
- Drizzle in water and quickly cover the pan; steam for 3 minutes. Uncover; reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until water evaporates and bottoms are browned and crunchy, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer to a warm serving dish. Repeat with remaining pot stickers. Serve with dipping sauce.
Sixth grader Gianna Longo, 11, comes from a family of athletes, but her passion is not on a football field or on a basketball court – it’s in the kitchen. Homeschooled by her mom, Tanya Longo, Gianna has absorbed many recipes and tips in her seven years of cooking at home and alongside accomplished local chefs. “I have done an internship working with Josh Coburn,” Gianna says of her time spent with the head chef at Venable Bistro in Carrboro.
Gianna currently studies under chef Bruce Pressey at The Travelling Cafe in Pittsboro, where her proudest pastry achievement so far has been perfecting macarons. “Boy, are they difficult!” she says. “At first, when I attempted to make them, they looked like Grinch cookies. They were scraggly and chewy,” she says. “They still tasted good, but they were not macarons.” Gianna says more elevated desserts, like the perfect puff pastry and a glassy mousse, are next on her list to tackle. “And I’m always open to learning other recipes I don’t even know about.”
Gianna already has mastered some complex entrées, too, like gnocchi in a bacon sage brown butter sauce and a rack of lamb with a red wine reduction. She says learning to cook has helped her stay open-minded. “Even when you already know how to make an item, you may find that some techniques are better than others, and it also helps you progress as a chef,” Gianna says. “Even if you don’t necessarily want to be a chef, it is an amazing skill to know how to cook and prepare meals in life.”
She loves cooking so much that she even had her birthday party at The Travelling Cafe. “We learned how to make calzones, salads and whoopie pies,” she says. The celebratory menu is right in line with her personal tastes. When it comes to eating, Gianna’s go-to comfort food includes classics like pizza (her all-time favorite is Three Brothers from Italy Pizza in Seaside Heights, New Jersey) and her mom’s pumpkin pie. On the left side of this page is a Longo family recipe for an Italian dish that is made with a mix of lobster, scallops, shrimp, sausage and vegetables.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND SEAFOOD CACCIUCCO
Serves 4 to 6
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
5 Italian sausages
1 lb. fresh shrimp
1 fresh lobster tail
1 lb. fresh scallops
2 zucchini, diced
2 yellow squash, diced
2 bell peppers, any color, diced
2 cups marinara sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté Italian sausages. In a separate medium skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté shrimp, lobster tail and scallops until cooked.
- When the sausage is about half-cooked, add zucchini, yellow squash and peppers to the large skillet. Sauté vegetables until sausage is fully cooked. Remove sausage from skillet, cut into 1-inch slices then return to skillet.
- Add 2 cups of your favorite marinara sauce and the minced garlic. Season to taste. Let simmer on low for 30-60 minutes.
- Add seafood just prior to serving.
Nate Derrick, 11, and Eli Hopper, 12, are cousins who attend classes together at The Travelling Cafe. “The classes are different all the time,” Nate says. “For example, I’ve made Christmas cookies in one, and pasta in another.”
Eli, who is a sixth grader at Margaret B. Pollard Middle School, also enjoys the variety that comes from learning to cook in a structured environment, having taken classes with Bruce Pressey – and sometimes chef and owner Leslie Chartier – including pies, Halloween treats, global dishes and even carnival foods.
“I would like other kids to know that these classes are enjoyable and a great way to explore new foods,” Eli says. “Cooking is not easy, but it is fun. I’m proud of learning how to cook so many different things and to master so many recipes.” His skills have already translated to day-to-day life, making dinners for his family like chicken with roasted broccoli and potatoes. He loves a good hamburger, too, and is working on his recipe. His favorite toppings are classic lettuce, onion, pickle and American cheese.
While Eli loves making entrées, Nate is a dessert expert; one of his earliest food memories is eating gelato in Italy when he was just 2 years old. “My favorite meal to make would consist of tiramisu, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake and cheesecake,” Nate adds. The Willow Oak Montessori fifth grader next hopes to level up his skills at decorating fancy desserts.
ELI’S DOUBLE COOKIE MILKSHAKE
4 scoops cookies and cream ice cream
4 Oreo cookies
3 ½ chocolate chip cookies
½ cup whole milk
1 Tbsp. caramel
- Blend ice cream, cookies, milk and caramel together until smooth.
- Pour into glasses and top with whipped cream and sprinkles. Don’t forget the straw!