Food Edited by
Karen Iley
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All That Naz
Want to cook with your kids but can’t stand the mess and mayhem? Karen Iley seeks out Naz Alibhai and her cracking cooking classes.
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By Karen Iley: May 3, 2009

Our family cooking efforts don’t always correspond to the smiling images of apron-clad mum and child, nibbling on delectable home-made goodies while enjoying a beautiful bonding moment. In fact, they usually involve a lot of yelling as my little chef empties flour all over the floor, they often spark tears if I foolishly attempt to sneak something healthy into a dish (like raisins into raisin cookies, or carrot into carrot cake) and inevitably end with at least one of us having a tantrum.

So it’s with some awe that we head off to Naz’s cooking class. Held – rather bravely we feel – in the living room of her gorgeous penthouse apartment on the Palm, Naz Alibhai routinely welcomes groups of up to six kids, aged three to five years, for cooking classes. Is she mad? Quite possibly, but with the looks of an angel and the patience of a saint, she steers the young chefs first to the kitchen, where they climb the steps to the sink and wash and dry their hands, before picking up their apron and heading to their cooking stations.

Laid out on the table are diminutive dishes, teeny whisks and small, safe spreaders. Today we’re making sushi sandwiches and avocado dip, and the little ones soon get to work, gently (or not so gently in some cases) flattening out their slices of bread with the tiniest rolling pins you’ve ever seen.

What’s beautifully bizarre about this class is the deafening hush that descends as soon as the kids get to work. They focus intently on Naz’s demo, listen to her instructions and steal glances at each other’s efforts to make sure they’re keeping pace. The bread rolled, it’s then spread with labneh cheese. Some kids, like three-year-old Charlotte Collins, painstakingly smooth it evenly to the edges, others lob it on with such force they tear their bread.

Next it’s a sprinkling of grated carrot before Naz offers around plates of lettuce leaves and turkey slices. The tricky bit – rolling up the sandwich and slicing it to make California rolls – requires grown-up assistance, although Sahar Ladha, aged four, brushes off any offer of help. ‘I’m good at this,’ she says proudly.

Surveying their creations, some kids are tempted to take a little nibble, although Noah Burns-Green – by his mum’s admission ‘a bit picky’ – was a little wary. Erika says the classes are encouraging her four-year-old to at least consider trying new tastes ‘but he’s still deeply suspicious of anything new’. Sahar’s mum, Tanya, tells a similar story, ‘Sahar refused to eat eggs until we made devilled eggs in one session.

Now she wants to make them all the time and insists on boiling more for dad.’ After another round of hand washing (climbing the steps, splashing around in the water and getting to jump off is possibly a highlight of the class) it’s back to our stations for the avocado dip. Throughout the hour-long sessions, kids learn rolling, spreading, mixing, whisking, patting, measuring, counting, shaking, scooping, bashing – the list goes on.

As they scoop out avocado flesh, the mums, who’ve done these classes before, sit back and observe from the sidelines. As a novice cooking class mum (and a bit of a control freak), I can’t help but dive in and try to ‘help’, much to the consternation of the students. ‘The kids watch and learn from each other,’ says Catherine, Charlotte’s mum. ‘I used to immediately want to leap in, but if I hold back, I’m surprised with her dexterity.’

Naz wanders round with a bowl of sour cream, instructing them to take two spoons. They do, and take great pleasure in beating up the green glop. Five shakes of a spice mix, a spoonful of chopped tomatoes and a sprinkling of spring onions later, and the dip is ready for tasting. Again, Noah is guarded, but Zakir, Naz’s son, recognises this as one of his favourites, and soon his face is smeared with the stuff. We notice, too, that the mums don’t hold back in tucking in and privately suspect this is the main reason they come. ‘We always end up eating the stuff the kids make,’ says Erika. ‘[To other mums] Remember those chicken wraps they did? They were delicious!’

The kids battle each other to get a damp cloth to help clean up (no, we’re not making that up), while the mums, still munching, sing the course’s praises. ‘It’s got the kids much more involved,’ says Erika. ‘If I’m in the kitchen, Noah will happily come in and get a chair and want to help me out, grating cheese or something. If I make cookies, he’ll break the eggs. OK, we have egg-shell cookies, but never mind!’

Catherine says the lessons have broadened both her and her daughter’s horizons. ‘I admit I do sometimes get stuck in the fish finger routine, so it’s great to have some new things to try. And now Charlotte is so interested in helping. She wants to be in the kitchen and participating.’

May 2009 Time Out Dubai Kids