There are many ways that I can finish the sentence “I have the great good fortune that ….” One of the ways I have great good fortune is that my kids like to cook. And they’re actually pretty good at it.
Because we do everything in a democratic, consensus-based style, one day when the kids were about 10 and 8, I said: “Starting now, one night a month, you guys are going to cook dinner.” The explanation was pretty simple: As they might have noticed, in a family led by a single dad, having a guy who knows how to cook turned out to be a pretty good thing. Since we had no idea how their futures would play out, this would be a good skill to carry with them.
The rules were also simple: The boys would, together, decide what they wanted to make, I would get the ingredients, and then they would be the chefs. I would supervise, but from a distance. Otherwise, dinner was on them.
Here’s what I thought would happen: Lots of hot dogs, English muffin pizzas, and tater tots. Why I expected this, God only knows—you’d think a guy would know his own kids after a few years.
What actually happened was this: Daveon’s class—we’ll call it 4th grade, give or take—went to the library. In addition to his usual Harry Potter knock-off/rip-off fantasy books, he got not one, not two, but a whole set of about a dozen “Cooking from Around the World” cookbooks. I think it a Time-Life series, for those of us of a certain age.
Anyway, here comes my little man home with his huge stack of (thankfully, very) thin cookbooks. Since we could only keep them for a couple of weeks, the boys’ next task wasto go through the books and put a post-it on any recipe that looked interesting (which, now that I think of it, was the same process I went through to “pick” the kids all those years ago). I copied those pages, put them in a binder, and thus was born our Sadusky family custom international cookbook.
Now you might be thinking: “That all sounds cute, but I bet when the kids actually ended up in the kitchen, out came the English muffins.”
You would be wrong.
Within the first six months we had, among other dished, Korean dumplings, Irish stew, and chicken cacciatore. All of them were delicious, and I don’t even like stewed tomatoes. I’m a little embarrassed to say that most of the meals the kids made actually tasted better—and were certainly more elaborate and labor-intensive—than the basic spaghetti and meatballs or roasted chicken I would typically throw together. So, score one for team effort.
Over the years, following the typical pattern, trying to get the kids to collaborate in the kitchen became more trouble than it was worth. So teamwork’s loss became dad’s gain: Instead of working together on a single monthly meal, each kid eventually got his own monthly cooking night. Double bonus!
After the first year or two, I also retired from supervising—all I needed to do was buy the groceries, which they needed to figure out and list. After those early years of experimentation (yes, we bought a Harry Potter cookbook, and yes, Daveon made shepherd’s pie out of it), things settled into kind of a routine. Daveon regularly made steak—some of the best I’ve ever had, in all honesty—and baked fish, while Mark’s typical menu was “whatever Daveon made last time, until Dad reminded him that it might be nice to come up with an original idea once in a while, at which point he grunted out a frustrated ‘fine,’ grabbed a cookbook, and picked whatever looked easiest to make.”
Believe it or not, since Daveon went away to school, he no longer cooks for us on any kind of regular basis. Neither, for that matter, does Mark, which a) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and b) says a lot about how life rolls with older teens.
But the good news, when push comes to shove, they know they can whip up something tasty. To their future partners/spouses/kids: You’re welcome.