Ms. Tonn is a graduate of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts who works with her executive chef, Johannes Oberbichler, her former Pacific Institute instructor, to develop the cooking programs.
Discovery, creativity and fun at The Hungry Oven
One Saturday morning, I found myself in North Vancouver at The Hungry Oven, cooking with a wonderful bunch of kids and either their mom or dad. I never would have thought I'd find myself in such a situation, and sort of wished I had my dad or mom to cook with me. Alas, I was flying solo, so I lived vicariously through the couplets while cooking by myself, with the occasional hand from one of the moms or Chef Dahn Bryan.
After we put our cute Hungry Oven aprons on and went through some housekeeping and general safety rules, we were ready to cook some grub. Many of the kids had some experience in the kitchen, but the extent of their knowledge varied and they were eager to learn more.
The kids (from left): Lucy, Lauren, Michael, Ben
The menu on the website gave a general idea of The Hungry Oven's Saturday breakfast menu, but when it came down to it the dishes we prepared on that day strayed from what we saw online prior. There were no compaints to the alterations, though, as everything sounded delicious, with a healthy balance of both sweet and savory, familiar and new.
We started off by making the dough for the cinnamon buns, as the recipe we were using was a double rise recipe so it needed the most time overall. Unsure of how confident and keen the group was, Chef Bryan gave us the opportunity of either using the bread making machine or making it by hand. To my delight (and probably hers too) the eager little group decided to do it themselves.
And what resulted was nothing short of amazing. After kneading the dough like nobody's business, then letting it rise while we prepared other dishes, it was time for the kids to roll it out in preparation for embellishment. The kids were then presented with another option; should they use raisins or dried cherries in the cinnamon buns? The group was torn with some favoring traditional raisins while others (myself included) leaning towards the tart sweetness of the cherries.
The consensus was that we'd mix and match groups and make both kinds. No compromise needed and everyone's happy. But the happiness didn't stop there. When it came to a dessert for our breakfast, I couldn't imagine anything else. The cinnamon buns were perfectly brown sugared, iced sloppingly but lovingly, and cooked until still soft and doughy but with that just barely there crust forming. They were a favorite among many, both adults and children, to no surprise, as it's not often that you get homemade cinnamon buns hot out of the oven. Apparently, we may have some future bakers on our hands.
We made Very Berry Muffins which were made with health and flavor in mind. They were loaded with antioxidant abundant frozen blueberries with that sweet blueberry essence that is intensified when frozen. Chef Bryan also chose to use a recipe that contained 2/3's whole wheat flour, which made them a viable source of fiber and a substantial breakfast or snack.
"I thought we'd make these because it's an easy thing to make the night before, so you grab on the go for breakfast or lunch the next day. I also like them because you can throw almost anything you want in to them; it's so easy to make substitutions with muffins," explained Chef Bryan, leading the group on a "field trip" to the freezer to get the blueberries.
Unfortunately although looking fantastic we discovered that they weren't our favorite; at least those of us with more discerning palates. The kids still seemed to like them but naturally chose the other (less healthy) dishes above the muffins. I did discover though that they were better the next day with a little butter or jam.
Next, in order to switch it up to the savory side of things we made the Breakfast Pie. This was pretty much a hodgepodge of ingredients that could only combine to become something terrific. And terrific it was. Basically it was deluxe hash browns, or "hashers", as they sometimes call them in restaurants.
The kids sliced the potatoes like pros, very precise in the widths of each scallop. The parents were in charge of frying up the bacon, or turkey bacon as one pair preferred, while the kids carefully grated the cheese. You could tell the parents were slightly nervous with the knives and graters being used but The Hungry Oven uses special knives that don't cut skin and are very conscious of enforcing proper chopping and grating techniques. "Fingers bent," Chef Bryan reminded them as she made her rounds of the kitchen.
Many ingredients went in to this dish and when broken down it was nutritiously high scoring and stuck with The Hungry Oven mandate of instilling healthy cooking habits in children. The base of the dish, the potatoes, are high in potassium and vitamin C and contain an equal amount of both fiber and protein, but tend to scare people who are starch conscious. Bacon, although fatty, is high in protein and when drained and patted of excess oil can be a great addition (in small doses) to any meal, contributing great flavour and texture. Additional protein was thrown in with cottage cheese combining with cheddar cheese and adding calcium and Vitamin D as well.
To add even more crunch to the top layer -- a typical method in most casserole type dishes -- we sprinkled crushed corn flakes on top which was then dusted with salt and pepper.
One ingredient in the dish that stood out was the green onion.
"I'm going to cut them so small that you can't even taste them," Ben said as he diced...and diced, away at the onions.
I appreciated that he took one for the team and still put them in the dish, as most adults seem to be so stuck in their way that once they become adverse to something they can't imagine eating a dish that includes it. Wait, I thought kids were supposed to be the stubborn ones...
Our last dish for the day was the Quinoa Banana Pudding. Lately I've been seeing quinoa, "The Gold of the Inca", in everything as it seems to be the trendy ingredient to use in this health conscious city we live in. As one of the world's healthiest foods, it was great to teach the kids to use a grain like quinoa and to highlight its versatility in dishes. With all the protein, fiber, potassium and calcium, and very little fat or sugar (besides the natural sugars) it was definitely the healthiest pudding you could serve your kids.
As you can expect though with a base of quinoa, it wasn't intensely flavorful and tasted bland in comparison to the other dishes, but the bananas added what flavour they could. To me the pudding tasted like porridge because of the texture, which makes sense since it was during breakfast. Because we were making it for breakfast we also used honey instead of sugar as the recipe was more of a dessert pudding.
"It's really nice served cold as a dessert, but my only piece of advice would be to not leave it overnight in the fridge, like I first did, as it turns black because of the bananas." - Chef Dahn Bryan
We were also going to make a baked egg with tomatoes, garlic and chili flakes to be served with pita bread which was going to be a first time experiment in The Hungry Oven kitchen. Chef Bryan told us she found the recipe in her favorite food blog (not mentioned) and thought that Saturday was a good day to test it out. Unfortunately we discovered that we wouldn't have enough time, which was fine as we had four dishes already to satiate our hunger. We were given a list of all of the recipes though, including the baked eggs, so hopefully the parents tried it at home with their kids.
With the many aromas floating around the room that Saturday, transitioning from muffins and cinnamon buns, to bacon and eggs, we were in sensory overdrive by class end. Everyone was eager to try all of the dishes and enjoy some quality time eating together with family and some potentially new friends.
One of the (many) reasons I was drawn to The Hungry Oven was the concept that they base their business on.
“When kids make their own food, they tend to actually try it,” Tonn said in a previous interview with the Georgia Straight. “We say ‘One bite could change your mind.’ ”
I was fortunate as a child to have my mother let me experiment in the kitchen while teaching me the how to bake. I curse her now for me developing a knack at it and being able to satisfy my sweet tooth on a regular basis through crazy concoctions. Once you understand the science behind it, the pantry is your playground. This goes the same, if not more so, for cooking. Recipes are great as a guideline but it's your ability to understand the techiniques of cooking, know what flavours match and which don't, and realize that there are a vast amount of ingredients out there that can be used in many ways. This is where my dad, a handyman in the kitchen, largely came in to the picture; I was lucky. That said, it would've been nice to have had the opportunity to cook under the supervision and guidance of a trained professional. Imagine where my skill set would be now if I had done that when I was borderline, or just barely in, double digits.
What I enjoyed most was the sense of pride the kids had knowing that they made everything themselves.
About Hungry Oven
Debby Tonn, the owner and founder of The Hungry Oven, set it up to encourage a passion for cooking in children at an early age. The company was inspired by a cooking facility she came across in New York that was exclusively for kids. Realizing the lack of exposure to cooking that children obtain in a professional environment in Vancouver, she decided to open The Hungry Oven in May last year. Business has been going well with a notable desire for parents to introduce the idea of healthy eating and knowing where the food we eat is coming from. Say goodbye to the days of boxed dinners laced with chemicals and products.
The ultimate goal for Debby and the chefs at The Hungry Oven is to promote healthy cooking habits in kids through professionally taught cooking classes, so they become familiar with being in the kitchen, learn basic techniques and continue to make their food from scratch for years to come.
An article in the Daily Mail last year stated that 21st century kids on average cook their first meal at only seven – five years earlier than their parents’ generation did. Sounds great right? Time to watch TV while the little ones cook you a meal? Not quite. Their research also showed that one in seven of meals cooked by these children turned up in a disaster. All the more reason to teach them young and teach them right.
The concept of teaching kids aged 3-16 to cook and bake seems sensible, as it's in those years that children retain the most information and are apt to develop lifelong habits. Cooking should be fun and creativity should be allowed in the kitchen. Despite following recipes, The Hungry Oven tries to highlight this mandate in their home kitchen-esque feel, their hands on approach and their fun and nutritious dishes.
I had the opportunity to take two classes at The Hungry Oven, one with Chef Dahn Bryan for the Children's Saturday breakfast class and the second with Chef Johannes Oberbichler for the Seared and Sauced Girl's Night Out adult class. Both were two very unique experiences; one making a mess with kids, and the second drinking wine and preparing extravagant dishes with a rowdy bunch of women. The big difference between the two classes was the fact that the women were mainly there to socialize while the children were there to cook. Stay tuned for a recap of the adult class, as well as a video from the children's class.
For more pictures, check out my gallery.
The Hungry Oven is located in North Vancouver and hold regular classes for children and adults. Check them out on their site for more info or to register for a class.