La Piccola Cucina is a program at the Italian Cultural & Community Center of Houston (ICCC) for kids. It is a hands-on cultural culinary experience for children ages 3-10 years old. Children wear chef aprons and toques and learn the basics of the Italian language, Italian culture, and metric system while preparing authentic Italian cuisine.
After two years, the ICCC brought back the beloved program just in time for Carnevale. For the first edition of 2023, the little chefs made mascherine di Carnevale, which are mardi gras themed masks made of pasta frolla (Italian shortbread).
Carnevale in Italy is a huge celebration that encourages eating, drinking and being merry before the restrictions of Lent. Italians celebrate for multiple weekends throughout February with parades, elaborate masks and brightly colored confetti. The biggest Carnevale celebration in Italy is in Venice, which was celebrated this year from Feb. 4 to Feb. 21. On Saturday, Feb. 18, the registered little chefs arrived with their guardian prepared to let their creativity flow for the next two hours. They followed a simple recipe consisting of six simple ingredients: butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking soda and vanilla. The little chefs used their hands to combine the ingredients together to create the cookies. The ICCC provided each little chef with three mask templates for them to cut out their desired masks. Some little chefs made all their cookies the same mask shape, while others used all three templates to have a variety.
After the cookies baked, they had free time to decorate the cookies however they wished. They were given chocolate and sprinkles. Every mask appeared fabulous and fun, which is on theme for Carnevale.
While the masks cooled off, the little chefs got to socialize and mingle with each other. They also practiced their Italian by learning some baking jargon, such as zucchero (sugar) and infornare (bake).
The full immersion is a reason why this program is very loved among the community. So much so that it is recognized as one of the top activities for kids in Houston to participate in.
In November 2022, Dana Cuterroil and Joni Finchman published 111 Places for Kids in Houston That You Must Not Miss. On page 120, the ICCC’s La Piccola Cucina is listed as number 56.
“For children, food is a major draw,” the authors said. “In the ICCC’s cooking workshop for kids ages 3-10, La Piccola Cucina, meaning ‘small kitchen,’ young chefs learn how to make Italian standards, like ravioli and bruschetta, along with seasonal specialties simple enough to be recreated at home.” Click here to buy the book and read more.