Experiment, don’t give up and have fun

Andrew MacKenzie(h)

Andrew MacKenzie knew that he wanted to be a chef before he had reached his teens. This didn’t come as a surprised to his family, as two of his relatives were chefs.  Andrew spent a lot of time with them in their large kitchens and as a ten year old, knew that was the ideal job for him too.

He said “Both of my uncles were chefs and I was inspired by them from a very young age. I was wowed by the big restaurant kitchens they worked in and dreamed of myself in that situation”. 

Andrew’s first work experience was at a local restaurant in his hometown in Devon when he was 16.  Growing up in the coastal village of Bampton, he always had a love of nature, the countryside and was able to make the most of the abundance of local produce on offer.  “You really knew when the seasons changed by the food that was stocked or growing in hedgerows. One of my earliest food memories is picking and stoning damsons for my grandmother’s damson jam”.

After training at Birmingham’s College of Food, he honed his craft by working for Allan Hill at Gleneagles and the infamous Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico and at Sevendials Restaurant (now Sam’s of Sevendials). Andrew settled in at Gingerman Restaurant at the boutique hotel Drakes, which was later refurbished and rebranded as The Restaurant at Drakes when he took over as head chef.

Although Andrew has cooked for many famous people, he most enjoys cooking with his family.  With a young three year old, Hetty, he’s keen to get her experimenting in the kitchen. 

His advice on the first stages of cookery can be taken by both the young and old:  “Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment. Just persist until you master a recipe and don’t give up. You’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction and pride in your achievements.”

Making bread with the family is the one of the best ways to get that sense of pride.  It’s a very tactile experience, but one that kids of all ages can get stuck in with.  Andrew’s delicious spiced festive plaited wreath is a great example. 

Kneading is a wonderful activity and helps children’s co-ordination.  To help kids knead dough, hold it with one hand yourself and then get your child to push the dough away from you to stretch it. Together you can bring the dough back into a ball and stretch again. Continue kneading together until the dough is springy and stretchy.

Even if children are too young to handle the plaiting in Andrew’s loaf, they can easily roll out the dough into “snakes” and watch you plait before having a try with off-cuts of dough themselves.

We asked Andrew if he had any tips to get kids to eat vegetables.  He suggested some delicious and fun tomato and vegetable risotto faces.  He said, “I like to play a game and get kids to close their eyes. They then eat part of the face and have guess which bit they’ve eaten.  It’s an ingenious way to help kids forget their aversion to veg!”  You can also challenge children to see who can make the funniest face with the vegetables on their risotto.

Children will also have fun decorating the animals in Andrew’s Gingerbread safari park. As well as fondant icing make sure there’s plenty of extras available for them to choose from – sweets, silver balls, sprinkles … anything to add that extra fun factor!

You can find out more about Andrew and sample some of his recipes over at our Cooking with Kids section.

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