Skip to main content
in the kitchen

One of the simplest pleasures of my childhood was cooking at home. My house was only a 10-minute walk from school, and I would often run home during lunch breaks to prepare meals for myself.

I used leftovers from previous dinners to create (in my mind at least) extravagant feasts.

Often after these lunchtime meals I would fall asleep on the couch, and - strangely enough - wake up just after the end of the school day.

On other occasions, I would complete the cooking chores for dinner before my mother came home from work, a deed that pleased us both, albeit for different reasons.

I'm constantly surprised that, 25 years after my own lunchtime feasts, more and more children are getting involved in the kitchen. For two young foodies I know - best friends Peter Bartlett, aged 12, and Quinn Robinson, aged 11 - cooking is fun, easy and relaxing.

One Sunday morning a few months ago, I went over for breakfast and enjoyed the simple pleasure of fresh bread the two of them had baked the night before, toasted and spread with butter and jam.

I saw the same fascination for food in their eyes as I had in mine when I was young.

The children of family friends, Peter and Quinn have been able to spend some time in my own kitchens, gaining experience by baking cookies or making pizza for the staff meal at Nota Bene.

At home, the number of available kitchen appliances, whether bread makers and ice-cream machines or food processors and panini grills, opens many doors for children to explore and be creative.

The rich mix of cultures in Toronto presents a great opportunity for children growing up in the city. While most of the food I ate at home was Chinese in style and taste, kids today have the luxury of diversity in cuisine. For example, Peter loves sushi, Chinese food and Italian cuisine, while Quinn prefers Indian and Greek fare.

As parents, we must nurture this passion for cooking in our children, and embrace basic foods to be prepared and enjoyed as a family.

With March Break coming up, it's important to take a little time and indulge your child's passion for food. Why not look into kids' cooking classes in your area? I took a home economics class in school, and one of the first things we made was croque madame, the classic French sandwich. Here is my version, featuring three fantastic Swiss cheeses. This recipe is a great lunch for the kids to make over the winter break. I used Peter and Quinn's French white bread, but challah is a fine substitute.



500 millilitres homo milk

1 small onion studded with 1 clove

1 bay leaf (preferably fresh)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon softened butter for the bread

1 tablespoon white flour

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 egg

2 slices homemade white bread or challah, 1.5 centimetres thick

3 to 4 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto

1 to 2 slices 4-year-old cave-aged Gruyère, plus ¼ cup grated Gruyère

1 to 2 slices Swiss raclette

1 slice Appenzeller


For béchamel sauce:

In a small saucepan, slowly bring milk to a boil. Place the studded onion and bay leaf in the warm milk and let infuse for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve milk.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat in a large saucepan until foamy. Slowly whisk in flour until fully incorporated and the roux turns a light golden colour.

Raise heat to medium-low and whisk in the infused milk - slowly, to ensure no lumps. Heat through at medium-low for 15 to 20 minutes until thickened. Set aside.

For the egg:

Bring a pot with 4 litres of water to boil.

Turn heat to simmer, and add white vinegar.

Crack the egg into a small bowl, and pour into the water.

Turn heat off, cover the pot and leave the egg in the water for 3 minutes.

Remove egg with a slotted spoon (for best results, the egg should be used immediately upon removal from the water).

For croque madame:

Preheat oven broiler.

Butter one side of each slice of bread.

Layer prosciutto and cheese slices together inside the bread and lightly toast in a hot frying pan or panini machine until browned on both sides.

Remove and place on an oven-ready tray. Spread half a cup of the béchamel over the top of the sandwich and add the grated Gruyère.

Place under broiler until bubbling and heated through. Remove from the oven, top with the poached egg and serve.

Serves 1.

David Lee is co-owner and executive chef of Splendido and Nota Bene in Toronto