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Children cook up a storm in Forest Hills

By Merle Exit

Chef competition reality TV shows are growing by the season.

There is “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Taste,” “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Top Chef,” “Master Chef” and now “Master Chef Junior.”

We recently watched as 8-year-old Oona, who said she had been cooking since the age of 2, made it into the top four. It was an 11-year-old who took the title. Where are they getting these talents children?

One contestant was 11-year-ole Josh Reisner, who hails from Forest Hills. The producers contacted Young Chef’s Academy located at 108-10 72nd Ave. in Forest Hills and after a number of interviews, Josh made it to the top 16 of the competition.

Karen and Christopher Chesleigh opened the school in the summer of 2007.

“Being parents ourselves, we wanted to bring something great to the neighborhood for kids,” Karen Chesleigh said. “I am nutritionally trained while Chris loves to cook and loves kids. Kids may not be athletic or musical but everyone can cook. You’re not going to play soccer all of your life, but the life-skill of cooking will always be important.”

Kindercooks are the youngest at age 4-6, Junior Chefs range from ages 7-11, and Senior Chefs are for 12 and up.

“Our longest student cooked with us for over six years,” said Chesleigh. “Our oldest students are 18 as well as some that have continued with us through the age of 20.”

When we watch “Master Chef Junior” and see what these kids are capable of, should other children or their parents expect that type of quality and imagination?

“We believe that if you have a true passion for what you are doing, you can accomplish anything,” Chesleigh said.

During a recent evening’s Junior Chef class, which was large enough to divide the group between two kitchens, baking holiday cookies was the topic.

On the evening prior another class had made the dough, put it into proportioned ball-shapes and stuck it in the refrigerator.

The class of young bakers was shown how to roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter. There were star-shaped vanilla wafers and bear-shaped gingerbread cookies. Once the cookies were baked the students were able to decorate them and make them their own.

While the cookies were in the oven, Chesleigh taught the students how to make the dough so that the next class would be able to have it on hand.

Several of Chesleigh’s young chefs were taking their second or third class, while others were novices at the school.

Young chef David Marreo’s mother said her son makes pancakes on the weekends.

“He does it from scratch,”she said. “I would do it from a mix. He loves to bake.”

Other children also expressed their desire to help mom and dad in the kitchen.

“With both parents working and siblings doing their own thing, family dinners are less common,” Chesleigh said. “Having children participate in the meal brings them together for at least a period of time.”

Classes are held Wednesday through Sunday. Chesleigh also offers private birthday cooking parties.

For further information call (718) 268-0343.

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