An appreciation for the kitchen – and all the goodness that emerges from it – can begin at a tender age. Debra Duplak recently built her childhood hobby into a business. With her own children now well on their way to adulthood, I asked Debra to share a few secrets about cooking with children and how her kitchen style has influenced her children. In addition, Debra shares a favorite recipe from her popular kids cooking class series. (Debra’s photo, right, was taken in her home kitchen by her 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.)

The youngest of four children, Debra Duplak was raised in Vancouver, Canada in a home filled with the aroma of homemade breads. Following her mother’s example, Debra took to her ‘Easy Bake’ oven at an early age, though she enjoyed the process more than the lackluster results. More often, she found herself in the kitchen baking brownies or cookies in the the real oven alongside her mother. These early experiences nurtured a love of cooking she still has today. Debra’s interest was further sparked by travel. She spent years working in the airline industry, which afforded her exposure to different cultures and foods. When her children reached their teens, Debra started her own catering business based from her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she has lived for the past ten years. She also offers cooking classes for both adults and children. Her business is now in its second year and she hasn’t looked back.

What three items are in your refrigerator at all times?

Eggs, milk and butter.

Where do you get your inspiration?

When I was eight, I started helping my mother prepare the family meals. She’s a great cook and even better at baking. At 84 years, she still makes the most perfect pie pastry.  Even now, I call her for advice when I am having a ‘bad pastry day.’

Through the years I have taken numerous cooking classes and have quite a collection of cookbooks I use for ideas and resources. In high school, Betty Crocker was the first cookbook I ever bought. Today, my favorites are The Barefoot Contessa collection by Ina Garten.  I love her fresh, unpretentious, yet stylish approach to cooking.

I also refer to my three large binders which are full of recipes I have collected, tested, and adapted over the past 30 plus years!

When your children were in elementary school, what was the typical weeknight meal experience at your house?

With after school activities, homework and my husband arriving home late from work, weeknight dinners were a little rushed and more casual. I enjoyed (and still do) gathering in the kitchen talking about our days, while I put the finishing touches on the meal.

Your children are now in high school and college. Do they enjoy cooking? How do you think your kitchen style influenced them?

My style of cooking has broadened my daughter’s interest with foods and flavors from around the world, which challenges her to develop a style of her own.  I’ve taught her there are no failures in cooking.  It should be fun and not taken too seriously. My son, 15 years old, hasn’t developed an interest in cooking but REALLY likes to eat and enjoys everything I make! He is great at kitchen clean-up and has learned that a clean and organized kitchen will help streamline the preparation of meals.

Many Weekly Greens readers have young children and seek fresh ideas to introduce new foods (myself included!). What advice do you have for them?

As far back as my children can remember, I have always had interest in cooking and continuously trying new foods and recipes.  I have always told them, as I still do today, “Just try it. Take a bite, you might surprise yourself and really like it.”   Most of the time they do like it and ask for more!

Another way to introduce new foods is to let them participate in the preparation.  Get them in the kitchen peeling, washing, and slicing.  Talk about the different colors, textures and tastes of each food type.  Guaranteed, they will want to try something new.

You teach cooking classes to kids. Tell me about your approach and what works best in terms of getting them involved.

In my “Kids in the Kitchen” cooking classes, I design each class and menu around a theme – “A Special Breakfast,” “Lunch Box Survival,” “Mexican Fiesta,” etc.  I want the menu be fun to prepare, yet always using fresh, healthy foods. It might be risky, but I like to try foods that may be new to some of the children.  It’s interesting to see their responses.  I have been surprised how many liked Hummus and Cilantro Vinaigrette on Mexican Rice! The children are all very enthusiastic and want to be involved, so it’s all hands-on. The beginning of each class we talk about the importance of hygiene and kitchen safety.  To be organized, read through the recipe first and have all the necessary ingredients ready.  I stress that it’s okay to make mistakes and how to make corrections. Once the hands are washed, hair is pulled back and aprons are on…the fun begins!!

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