If you have young kids, and have much spent time making sure they know their way around the kitchen, you probably know the drill. Buy them some kids' cookbooks, maybe sign them up for a kids' cooking class, invite their friends over for kitchen projects. My kids' have gone to Top Chef birthday parties and parties held in cooking schools; once a particularly creative parent even staged a treasure hunt in a Ralph's, like a smaller and more chaotic version of those Whole Foods excursions Tom and Padma orchestrate on Bravo. But those things take time, and often money, and lots and lots of energy. If you find yourself on the short end of most of those things, you might do well to turn on the DVR and watch


This is not a complete cop out, like watching Hannah Montana with your kid while you order take-out. The 2007 Brad Bird animated film is a beautiful piece of story-telling; it's also a fantastic introduction to the world of a high-end restaurant. Thomas Keller allowed Bird and his crew to work alongside Keller at his restaurant The French Laundry, and it was his recipe for ratatouille that the movie's hero (and antihero) cooked for the scary (for both kids and grownups) restaurant critic voiced by Peter O'Toole. Ratatouille not only opens the doors to a restaurant kitchen for kids to see, but it demystifies some of the techniques and ingredients and procedures found inside.

Sure, my daughter had seen the movie before (the day it was released, the week after, a few more times on video), but for some reason she really took to it this time. The day after seeing it this most recent time, Sophie asked to see saffron, then deconstructed the spice cabinet to see what else was inside. She was big on kitchen cleanliness (rats! health inspectors!), then asked to make dinner, and to clean up. She watched, rapt, as I showed her how to use a steel on my chef's knife; how to properly cut an onion; how to sweat the onions in olive oil. (We made risotto, not ratatouille, but only because she didn't want to go to the market.) Sophie also asked, in addition to questions about basic knife skills and spice identification, more abstract questions. Why do people eat sweetbreads? Why do you put salt into food? How do you tell when a dish is done? Why are restaurant critics so important? Who owns a recipe?

Until she's ready for her own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this movie will do just fine.

LA Weekly