Play dough is a great way to flex young fingers, and play kitchens open up a world of imagination, but a New Plymouth pizzeria is the real deal when it comes to kids and cooking.
For a couple of years now, Black Sand Pizzeria & Bistro Oakura has been teaching under fives how to make proper Neapolitan pizza, using house-made dough and a commercial oven.
Along the way, local toddlers and preschoolers have been learning skills and making memories that will stay with them for life.
To see how these prelibato (that’s ‘delicious’ in Italian) pizza-making sessions work, we spoke with Black Sand’s Martin Barlock, who runs the classes with his co-owner, Matthew Brock.
Thanks for your time, Martin. How did you first start pizza-making lessons for little ones, and how have these sessions grown in popularity?
Our four-year-old son was showing so much interest in pizza-making at home and in the restaurant that my wife and I wondered if many other kids shared the same enthusiasm.
We thought it would be great to enable young children to create something that so often is just popped down in front of them. So, we offered to have our son’s daycare group come to Black Sand for an excursion, and the session went so well that it grew from there.
Our son is at school now, but our business partner, Matt, has two little ones and it made sense to carry on the tradition.
Our pizza-making classes have been so well received that we’ve opened up the invitation to our local kindergarten and playcentre, and now have about 30 kids coming in each a few times a year to learn the art of pizza-making.
You teach under fives how to make authentic Italian pizza. What does this involve?
It's all about getting their hands in there with real ingredients.
We let the kids play with the dough and show them how it needs to feel when pressed in the right ways. We let them stretch the dough, so they can see it grow from a small ball into their own huge pizza base. And they get to add simple toppings to their base, like tomato and cheese.
As this is all happening, we explain the pizza-making process in a way they can understand.
Our pizzas are made in a very hot oven, so even with their short attention spans, the children get to see their creation cook from start to finish in 90 seconds.
They’re so proud when they carry their pizza out to the table, and it's great to see the satisfaction and excitement on their faces!
How do you keep the pizza-making process safe and hygienic when cooking with under fives?
Before we begin, all the children line up and wash their hands, and we explain that this is important to keep the food nice and everyone healthy. The surfaces in our restaurant are all super clean, so even though a lot of flour gets sprinkled around with the dough, the environment is hygienic.
In the hot kitchen, we work in small groups – two children at a time, with an adult. While the two kids are watching their pizzas cook, the others are either playing with the dough and flour on big tables in the restaurant, or eating their already-made pizza creations!
Once they enter the kitchen, the children feel the heat from the pizza oven and understand quickly that this is different to their kitchen at home, so it’s a valuable way to teach them about safety and risk in a hands-on – but not too hands-on – way.
What feedback have you received from parents and early childhood educators who’ve come along to your pizza-making sessions?
It's great bumping into the parents and educators in the village, or seeing them when they come into the restaurant to dine.
The feedback is so positive and they say their children won’t stop talking about their time at Black Sand.
Parents often tell us that their kids correct their pizza-making technique at home, with a “That's not how you do it!” or “You do it like this,” so we’re chuffed that the young generation is teaching cheffing skills to their grown-ups!
What pizza topping is always a hit with little kids, and why?
We let them control everything when making their own pizzas, including the shape and thickness of the base.
When it comes to toppings, we normally stick with the traditional, and queen of all pizzas, the Margherita (minus the basil), and suggest an amount of toppings that are needed. However, we agree with their judgment if six extra tiny handfuls of cheese are placed right in the centre!
It's all about having fun, being creative, and really getting in there and making something for themselves.
Kitchens have rules, but then, some great creations come from breaking the rules, and if all the tomato sauce goes on the right-hand side of the pizza, so be it!
Matt and I find it very rewarding to watch, and we’re so happy to share our facilities and expertise with local children.