September 11, 2019 - Written by: Nancy Pollard
Read Time: 4 Minutes

In Search Of A Birthday Gift

From FB page of Together We Cook VA A treasure has landed in Alexandria, Virginia!  A lovely space in a home dedicated to helping children learn how to cook, sit at a table, organize a menu, and taste new foods — all painlessly and all away from the Dinner Doomsday voice of their parents. This kid-pasta making after Together We Cook class in KD kitchenheaven is led by a gifted children’s teacher who is interested in sustainability, foods from other cultures and organic choices. I found Mari Coelho this summer when I was looking for a birthday present to give to a grandson who has loved to cook since age three. I was eager for a gift of an experience rather than a toy or clothing. I had looked at children’s cooking classes at some chain cooking stores, which I knew from experience are focused on parents buying the store’s merchandise after the “lesson”.  Instead, I chose three wonderful classes at Together We Cook, a children’s cooking school, for this adventurous now-four-year-old who embraces savory as well as chocolate,  wants to fry regardless of popping fat, and does not think mixing eggs into flour is yucky. After his first class in making pasta, pesto, and strawberries in chocolate, he was hooked, and we repeated the menu for a dinner to showcase his new-found expertise.

A Brazilian Background For Together We Cook

cooking carefully at the children's cooking school, Together We CookMari Coelho was a lawyer in Sao Paolo, Brazil, who took courses at the Escola Wilma Kövesi. She later benefited from living in Tunisia, where she cooked in the North African vernacular. When she moved to DC, she worked the breakfast shift at Miriam’s Kitchen  and assisted cooking classes  at L’Academie De Cuisine. So those experiences,  along with her own observations on raising three children, became the  basis of Mari’s current philosophy for Together We Cook.  Her classes are all hands-on and designed for ages 3 through 14. In addition to tailoring the classes so that the cooking skills are age-appropriate, she uses fresh, organic and local ingredients. I was intrigued that she went on a local foraging expedition and personally cooked with her carefully guided finds. She’s determined that children learn about seasonability of the ingredients they use in their lessons, that they be exposed to new foods – miso soup for example – and she stresses kitchen safety in each class. Science is touched on, and the geography of foods and their  nutrition are artfully woven into each class. And it helps that Mari  encourages her students to assist each other. My own children, now parents themselves, said they benefited  while growing up from gaining a greater knowledge about food rather than being led by packaging, and they became quite independent and thoughtful in their food choices. I think you will see that the child on whom you bestow one of Mari’s classes will develop a pride of ownership when he or she cooks at home. 

The Set-Up For Classes

together We Cook class set up with measuring cups and spoonsTogether We Cook Schoo image by Bridget EldridgeWhen you enter the charming and welcoming “class room,” the walls are lined with blackboards — one with the menu for the class, the others holding measuring devices the children will learn about. There is a selection of food periodicals used in the class to give children a greater understanding of the ingredients in their lesson.  A central table used first for preparing the menu and later for dining on the results fills a large part of the space.  Basins for washing foods (and yes, also dishes!) are on a side table at the appropriate height.  A stand for children’s aprons and oven mitts  is within easy reach, and each child gets to choose a special cook’s hat that Mari has had made in Brazil.  

 

Many Options To Cook Together

picnic at Together We Cook Summer CampOutside of her normal children’s cooking school set, Mari can arrange to have a class or workshop in the school that your child attends, or in a willing restaurant or organization. The Montessori School of Alexandria, Bon Vivant Cafe in Del Ray, Charles Houston Rec Center, Fairfax County Farmers Markets festival, and Fort Hunt Preschool food festival all have hosted a Together We Cook special workshop or class. I am thinking of taking up her offer and planning a birthday party for some children in the future.
While Mari’s setup at her house is not nut free, she coordinates with parents to accommodate most food allergies.  She even designed a successful gluten, dairy and peanut-free summer camp that was home to children with and without dietary restrictions.  And together they all made delicious and nutrious menus. 
 
I liked that her website offers gift cards so that if you don’t know a child’s schedule or dietary restrictions, you can send the card and Mari will work with the parents to provide a suitable kid’s cooking class. And after your child, grandchild, niece or nephew has taken one of these wonderful classes, read through the 7 Tips For Cooking With Kids to get the most out of this magical program in our neighborhood. 

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Hi Nancy,

Thank you for such a lovely review of Together We Cook! Beautifully written and it really captures what I do and the love I put into it.

It was so lovely to cook with your grandson. I hope to do it again in the future. ; )

Thanks again!
Mari