CLEVELAND -- Look out Emeril, some new cooks are in town. On a recent morning, Tessy Medley and four youngsters huddled to make Tater Tot casseroles and chocolate chip cookies. Before they handled the ingredients, Medley made the children wash their hands, which turned into a splashing war. Assembling the casserole was an easy task for Medley’s students, but resisting chocolate chip cookie dough was another matter. The children’s eyes opened wide as Medley allowed them one scoop apiece of the gooey substance. The children got their hands sticky, but the accomplishment, smiles and laughter were all that mattered to Medley.

“I want the kids to succeed at everything they do,” she said. “There is immediate gratification — they do it, they see it and they experience it. I believe that if you are accomplishing little things at a time, then it really gives you a sense of security to try bigger things because you did OK right here.”

Medley operates Classy Kids Cook from her home in the Cleveland community. She said her mother, Terry Carrasquillo, was the inspiration for the business, which teaches cooking skills and etiquette to children ages 5-18. While Carrasquillo worked, Medley tended to her three younger siblings. By the time Medley was 12, her mother had taught her how to cook a variety of meals. On Fridays, Medley knew she was in for a treat. 

“That is when we got the works,” she said. “The works was nothing more than cold cuts, Italian bread, a banana and a soda, but she made everything an adventure.”

As an adult working with church youth programs, Medley saw some youngsters who lacked good manners and kitchen know-how. So earlier this month, she left a 19-year career in finance to launch Classy Kids Cook. Medley hopes to find a storefront in Clayton once her business grows. “The motive behind all this is I want children to realize they don’t need to compromise any area of their lives,” she said. “If I can help them build a good sense of accomplishment and a good sense of self-esteem, it will transfer to other areas of their lives. They will be more apt to say ‘No’ or ‘I value myself more than what you are asking me to do’ when they are being asked to compromise an area in their life.”

For her classes, Medley sorts her young charges by age. She then asks about food allergies and food likes and dislikes. With the youngest children, Medley sticks to cooking basics and kitchen safety. Older students learn how to make gourmet meals, create menus and factor costs. “I try to let them be creative,” Medley said of the cooking. “It’s theirs. It’s their business. It’s their cooking item.” On the etiquette side, Medley teaches the importance of good manners. The students are not allowed to speak unless they are invited into the conversation. If they need to talk, the students must say, “Excuse me,” and wait to be acknowledged. Throughout the course, parents report on how their children are incorporating Medley’s lessons into their daily lives. At the end of the course, the student with the best report gets a reward. “They walk away knowing more than they walked in with,” Medley said. “They are feeling good about themselves because they have accomplished something that is delicious or beautiful.” Classy Kids Cook is available for birthday parties, tea parties, family events, home-school classes and corporate team-building functions.

Copyright 2006, The News & Observer


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