Herb lore for children

The master chef and her little seeds

“That looks poisonous!” Julius, 5, stares in disbelief at the green liquid in his glass. But then he dares to try it. Fearlessly takes a sip … and is amazed: “It tastes like chewing gum.” Tanja Grandits laughs heartily. Together with her partner V-ZUG, the appliance manufacturer, she has invited nine children to an afternoon of discovery dedicated to kitchen herbs at the Restaurant Stucki in Basel. A minute ago they were crying “Yuck!” at the sight of vegetable slices in cucumber water, now they’re happy to try any herb that the master chef passes round to touch, smell and taste. Suddenly fennel blossom looks “like a tiny bunch of flowers”, onion blossom “smells of leek” and verbena “it’s really tingly on my tongue”.

Herbs and spices are the trademark of Tanja Grandit’s aromatic cuisine. 1600 plants grow in the garden surrounding the restaurant, where the youngsters now set out on a voyage of discovery. They admire the special bed of plants grown as fodder for the tortoises of Grandit’s daughter Emma, 10, and pull up handfuls of peppermint. Now and again, a stalk or two surreptitiously disappears into the young mouths. Next stop is the kitchen, where sous chef Marco Böhler makes ‘little basil mice’ with the lively bunch of kids. He dips the leaves – “including the stalk, that’s what makes up the mouse’s tail” – in a liquid dough and fries them in bubbling oil until crisp. “Like chips!”, calls out an enthusiastic Lilli, 5.

Meantime, Guy, 12, is practising turning herb pancakes. The children themselves chopped the sprigs of parsley that now appear as green specks through the dough. “The green comes from chlorophyll,” explains Tanja Grandits. “It’s healthy, but if you eat too much it can give you a green tongue.” As two of the youngsters soon verify by stealthily sticking out their tongues and squinting at them. Spontaneous applause then breaks out when Guy actually manages to toss a pancake in the air. Tanja Grandits drizzles lemon juice and sugar over it; proof that herbs can also add a kick to sweet dishes.

This nourishment brings the afternoon to a close. The little chefs take off their mini-aprons and say bye-bye to the chef de cuisine who not only has green fingers but is also good with children. As they leave, several of the kids pluck a leaf of chervil or sorrel – to nibble on or keep as a souvenir.

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