Eager little chefs in Lafayette stirred pots of ingredients like witches over cauldrons Thursday, with the sweet and spicy smells of shrimp and corn macque choux, Cajun syrup cake, and red beans and rice filling the air of the kitchen.
The aspiring chefs, all between the ages of 9 and 16, chatted with one another about the tasks at hand while they worked together as a group to create simple traditional Cajun dishes as a part of a children’s Cajun cooking class offered by Continuing Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“It’s not like a class where they watch me cook,” said Rebecca Dubois, the instructor for the class. “They are actually cooking for themselves.”
Nine-year-old Jenna Fraley, of Morgan City, who moved in with her cousins for the week so she could take the class, said her favorite thing to cook is shrimp — and she loves stirring.
“I took the class because I like to cook. I do it a lot at home, and I thought this would be fun for me,” Jenna said as she watched her pot full of shrimp and corn.
Thursday was the day of the four-day Cajun cooking class, which is one of three types of courses offered at UL-Lafayette during the summer.
Children also can try their hands at international cooking or desserts and pastries. The classes cost $100, which covers the cost of ingredients for the four days of cooking.
Each day lasts about three hours, and the youths make three dishes a day: an entrée, a side dish and a dessert. This week, the menu included sausage jambalaya, chicken and sausage gumbo, pecan pie with a homemade crust and bacon-wrapped green beans.
“These are modified recipes, really easy for the kids to follow,” Dubois said.
Despite the simplified recipes, a few mistakes were bound to happen, offering a learning experience for the aspiring chefs.
“Earlier in the week, the first day, one of the groups, they put a plastic cafeteria tray in the oven to bake cookies,” Dubois said. “So they learned. I didn’t yell at them. I didn’t fuss at them. It smelled like burning plastic for a little while, but, you know, they learned.”
Dubois, who is the senior instructor of hospitality management at UL-Lafayette, also taught the children kitchen safety, cooking terminology and cooking basics.
After the youths finish cooking for the day, they take home all of the dishes they created.
“I think it’s important to preserve our culture,” Dubois said. “I do it to carry on the Cajun culture. Some parents are too busy or they don’t want the mess in their house so I’m like, ‘Go ’head. Don’t worry about the floor; don’t worry about making a mess. Just have fun; learn.’ ”