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It’s lots of tasty, messy fun when babies bake

by Danielle Demetriou

The master chefs are hard at work: slicing bananas, whisking a sticky mixture in a bowl, squeezing piped cream across a cake.

This, however, is no ordinary kitchen — as is apparent from the sticky fingers in mouths and the hints of a tantrum when cake mixtures are taken away and placed in the oven.

This is perhaps little surprise bearing in mind the chefs in question are not adults, but pint-sized babies and toddlers who are honing their culinary skills by taking part in a special baking class in Tokyo.

Busy Little Bee Tokyo is a small but innovative company offering a range of intimate classes for young city-dwellers up to the age of 3 — including cooking for mothers, cooking for babies and toddlers, craft sessions and general playgroups.

The company was set up by Anna-Marie Farrier — a chef who grew up in Tokyo, trained in Paris and formerly owned a macaroon shop in New York — and the Shanghai-born artist Emiko Boylan, both of whom have toddler daughters.

“There are so few things that mothers can do with children of preschool age in Tokyo, particularly if you don’t enjoy dancing around and singing in front of people,” laughs Anna.

“We decided to set up this company in order to offer alternative ways for mothers and children to relax and enjoy themselves together in a way that isn’t stressful.”

It is on a sunny Saturday morning that I make my way to Anna’s apartment in Shibuya to attend a cookery class, bringing in tow my food-loving 11-month-old Kiko Blossom.

The class is designed to involve the little ones at every level, with each revolving around a children’s story — on this occasion, we’re making “Curious George’s Banana Jelly Roll with Tofu Cream.”

By the time we arrive, there are already four small eager chefs with clean aprons — ranging in age from 14 months to 3 years — surrounding a low table filled with plastic bowls and baby-friendly kitchen utensils.

After checking everyone has washed their hands, the cooking fun begins. First off, against a background soundtrack of nursery rhymes, the little chefs are given small plastic bags containing a piece of banana which they are instructed to squish into a pulp.

Cue much bag squashing (and in Kiko’s case, sucking) before they are then guided into transferring the banana pulp into their bowls, before a string of other ingredients are added to the mix, including grapeseed oil and maple syrup

In between talking the children through the recipe, the ever calm and glamorous Anna also gives culinary tips to parents — such as advising to use healthy brown rice syrup known as kome mizuame to sweeten recipes.

Best of all? As they work their way through the cake recipe, the children are actively encouraged to get stuck in and not only take part in the cooking but taste the ingredients along the way.

“Let them taste it as we go along,” Anna urges the attendant parents. “That’s how they learn about different tastes and textures.

“The recipe we’ve devised has no dairy, no sugar, no wheat and no raw eggs, so it’s healthy and safe to eat even before it’s cooked.”

With the cake mix completed and cooking in the oven (minus several spoonfuls), it’s time for the equally healthy but no less tasty tofu-cream filling — a creamy fusion including momen tofu, vanilla and balsamic vinegar.

By the time this is completed, the little chefs reluctantly hand over their bowls and utensils to be cleaned up — and settle down for story-telling time, as Anna reads the “Curious George” story.

Once the cake is baked and the story finished, it is time for some decoration. Each of the chefs (albeit with some help from their parents) squeeze piped tofu cream in pretty patterns around their cake, before creating the face of the “Curious George” monkey character using digestive biscuits.

For Kiko — and the other little kitchen maestros — it’s not so much a chance to show off their decorating skills as an opportunity to try to eat as much of the cake in the process as possible.

And so it is with sticky faces, full tummies and big smiles that the class comes to an end and Tokyo’s smallest chefs leave the class proudly clutching Tupperware containers holding the nibbled remains of their tofu cake.

Busy Little Bee offers monthly cooking and craft classes a 10-minute walk from Shibuya Station and also in Nakameguro to parents with children up to 3-years-old. Classes include Mommy and Me classes — in which the children help bake a healthy treat themed on a story — as well as Baking for Mommy classes, enabling mothers to learn more complicated recipes while their children play. Classes cost ¥3,000 for 90 minutes and are taught in both English and Japanese. For more information, visit www.busybeetokyo.com