This week at The Kitchen Studio we're holding our annual Iron Chef-style camp. Each day we focus on a particular technique, then finish with a competition on the last day using a "secret ingredient". It is absolutely one of our most popular camps for this age group and usually sells out very quickly, though I often wonder if these teens (and their parents) know what they're getting into.
On day one, we always work through knife skills. Some have worked with knives before and feel comfortable working their way through carrots, celery, onions, etc. Some have never held an 8" knife in their life and are having their first taste of kitchen freedom. All goes well until about an hour and a half in. That's when we bring out the chickens.
If you're a carnivore, and oh boy am I, I think it's important that you realize that your meat doesn't start as the homogenized packages you find at the grocery. Or even worse, as chicken nuggets in a box.
I think it's important to recognize that meat was once an actual living, breathing creature. It gave up it's life (not so willingly I'd assume) so that you could have a good dinner. You must respect this, or you really just can't be a responsible cook.
So we break out the chickens. Everyone gets one, and I do mean every single person in class gets his or her own chicken to break down into 10 pieces.
This task is sometimes met with fear, but most of the time, the teens are pretty stoked. After all, it is unlikely that their parents give them a chicken to cut apart and that no one will freak if they make a mistake (I won't). It's a real step into independence in the kitchen -- trust me.
The only teens who really hate this exercise are those toying with vegetarianism, and I completely respect that. Your teen years are truly about figuring out who you are, and the whole breaking-down-a-chicken thing can really throw those that aren't quite sure of their stance on meat yet. Who knew you'd have to take a stance so young?
This year we have 12 teens in class. Ten got through the chickens, and did very well for first-timers. One potential vegetarian politely declined from the outset (she made an excellent Dutch Baby instead), and another gave in about halfway though, pale and green, though he has recovered nicely for the rest of the week (that said, he has told me that he didn't feel well at the start of class, but didn't want to miss it), so I'm cutting him huge amounts of slack, especially since he's been all in as far as using the chickens.
We use the chicken pieces throughout the week in both the morning and afternoon camp, freezing what won't be used and making stock with the carcasses. We're demonstrating that if something gave up it's life so that you could have a nice dinner, you owe it to them to use every single bit you can, right down to the bones. And teaching that is the best way I can think to teach respect.