The boy who fed dog biscuits to his family
At 11 years old, Andrew Ryan is one of the youngest finalists in the Easy Food Home-Cook Hero awards. But he's served his share of dogs' dinners.
I never roll out pastry without remembering my mother holding an apple pie aloft like a waiter, as she skirted the edges with a sharp knife to remove any excess pastry. And on those rare occasions when the baking bug bites, I do the same. Like her, I pinch the edges of the pastry with a fork and use any leftovers to create a little apple design at the centre.
Generations of Irish women (the boys were usually doing something else) learned their kitchen habits alongside their mothers, often earning the lick of a chocolatey spoon for their trouble. But in this age of oven-ready dinners and frozen meals, where often both parents are working, who is teaching our children how to boil eggs, or anything else for that matter?
And in failing to preserve the ancient task of home cooking, has the modern family lost an art form?
Apparently not completely, according to television chef and cooking maestro Catherine Fulvio. She is one of the judges of this year's Easy Food Home-Cook Hero Awards, a national cookery competition open to all ages which celebrates everything from baking to hearty family dinners.
Thousands of amateur chefs from all over the country entered their personal favourite recipes and the 30 finalists will take part in a grand cook-off tomorrow.
One of the youngest finalists is 11-year-old Andrew Ryan from Navan in Co Meath who is passionate about working in the kitchen, a love he learned during afternoons spent helping his mother Karen.
But he will have to compete against a number of teenagers, as well as adults, to win the top prize this weekend.
Catherine says: "I actually think that people are spending more time cooking with their children in the kitchen and they aren't just baking sweet things. When children are small, we tend to bake brownies or something like that with them but when they get to eight or nine, their tastes start to mature and they are creative by nature."
Catherine says that it is precisely because mid-week schedules can be so hectic that we should show our children how to prepare simple, nutritious meals.
"It is logical so they are able to help along the way while we are racing to another GAA run or whatever."
And she says we are also teaching our children life skills. She suggests that the long, dark winter evenings are a great opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen as a family and cooking together can also improve their maths and English.
"You often have to double or halve a recipe or you might ask them to get down the 23cm pan. They are learning by osmosis," she says.
Andrew Ryan is one young man who is unlikely to be caught eating out of a plastic container. "He loves anything to do with cooking and loves experimenting with different ingredients," says his mum Karen.
Not all of Andrew's new creations have been popular with his family who are usually the guinea pigs. There was the time when he came up with that special biscuit ice cream.
'I needed some biscuits to put in this new ice cream. But we had run out of the Rich Tea I usually use so I used Bonio dog biscuits instead," said Andrew, who still doesn't appear to appreciate why everyone was so upset with him.
Karen recalls: "He never told us until after we had eaten it. We all thought it was the most delicious ice cream we had ever had and the thing was Andrew couldn't see what the problem was."
But Andrew also has plenty of cooking successes. He came up with the dish he will cook this Saturday in a desperate attempt to salvage a Mother's Day that was threatening to go pear-shaped.
His dad Derek had almost forgotten the occasion and picked up some flowers at a petrol station at the last minute. Karen had taken one look at the drooping bouquet and told Derek where to put them (and it wasn't into a vase).
So Andrew and his Dad cooked a special meal for the simmering Karen. Derek managed to singe the main course but Andy's banana and caramel invention was a big hit. His mum thought it was absolutely delicious and it also impressed the judges enough to win him a place at the cook-off this Saturday.
"I am a bit nervous, I'm not really that confident," he admitted, saying the competition will be fierce.
Karen says she sees great value in Andrew's love of cooking in that he has no interest in eating processed food, frozen pizzas or microwave meals.
"If they can see the goodness from using fresh ingredients it is so much better than opening a packet. If you can get kids interested early, they are like sponges and they learn so quickly,"she says.
Catherine will join fellow judges Kevin Dundon and Gina Miltiadou, publisher of Easy Food magazine, to decide the finest creations from among the 30 contestants tomorrow. The cook-off will air as a TV show on TV3 on Saturday, November 16.