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Stephane Pois, a Gourmet Pied Piper Inspiring Children

By Carol Duncan - 30th May 2011

Today I saw something wonderful. And unexpected.

My kids know about real food. Fresh food. They don't think cakes come from packet mix because Mum says if you're going to have chocolate cake, have a real one. They know how to make dumplings. They've had chooks in their backyard (and will have them again when I build a proper pen ... long story).

Our children know how to make yoghurt, and therefore they know how to make labna. And they eat it. They pick herbs from the garden for including in meals, or mint for pineapple slushies. They even know how to make beef jerky and smoked salmon.

I'm very much a slacker-mum, and I could make sure they watched less television and ran around the yard a bit more, but they do know about real, fresh food. They see Mum cook interesting, tasty things, and then freeze them for later. I make their school lunches nearly every day and they're always very simple sangers & a bit of fruit. Maybe a bikkie or two. Sometimes they get a canteen lunch order or a little money to spend, but not often. They don't mind, it's just how it is.

Because we cook. Yes, I work full-time and they do after-school stuff like soccer and violin. We don't have all that much of a social life and there's nowhere near enough hours in the day but we love to make interesting, tasty things to eat. Real food is a priority. In case you're wondering, yes we do eat McDonalds and pizza. Too often.

Occasionally we visit the local farmers' market. We have the lovely Turkish family cook spinach, fetta and mushroom gozleme for us for breakfast. And because I must reverse engineer anything tasty, we now make it at home in a sandwich press.

We buy oranges from the man who grows them, lemons and lemon cordial from the woman who grows the lemons and makes the cordial, 'Russian' sausages from Mr Kasmaroski who was taught how to make them by his great-grandfather. We buy felafel, hommus, baba ganoush and the most amazingly garlicky garlic dip from the man who makes them and we get some of his delicious bread smothered in zaatar to eat our dips and goodies with.

Today at the farmers' market we met Stephane Pois.

I knew a little about Stephane as he had been on our breakfast program at ABC Newcastle local radio; he came in to make us pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and he once gave me a beautiful spicy sausage to try, but I don't know him very well. After today, however, he is my new best friend.

I didn't know that Stephane was the very best kind of Pied Piper.

Stephane is a very French Frenchman who kisses you on both cheeks and does food and wine tours and food tastings, gourmet hampers and so on in the Hunter Valley. At the farmers' market, however, he shares his love of fresh produce and beautiful, simple food by doing quick cooking demonstrations. Today he made, among other things, vin chaud - mulled wine, and this mother could have happily sat there all day tasting it in tiny little cups. Or mugs. Okay, buckets.

In between doing the demonstrations, Stephane does a children's tour of the market. With portable microphone in hand and kids dressed in aprons and chef's hats, they charge off at a rapid trot to visit half a dozen stall holders where Stephane tells them about the food and the people who make or grow it; then they have a little taste and collect goodies for their loot bags.

Today the children learned about fresh oranges and which ones are sweeter, they tasted beautiful Angus beef and chilli (yes, chilli) sausages with Tim (in the photo), they tasted labna made by Simon (and declared it better than their mother's - funny because Simon taught me how to make it), they tried pate and delicious pork terrine made by Stephane himself, salted caramel truffles and scored a lovely bag of fresh mushrooms from the mushroom grower.

And then they all returned to Stephane's cooking stall to cook vichy carrots.

End result? Incredibly happy and motivated children who had a rip-roaring gallop through the farmers' market, and who met wonderful growers and producers sharing a love of food and seeing the importance of Stephane's quest to inspire kids. And Stephane and his colleagues do this for free. Maybe the parents buy an item here or there, maybe they don't, but no-one worries about that. Stephane's quest is healthy kids who understand fresh produce and love good food.

I reckon this very loud and exuberant Frenchman knows just how to achieve it.

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