Preppy Kitchen chef John Kennell on how cooking is like math

John Cannell, food blogger for Preppy Kitchen, says his husband Brian loves a controversial pizza topping: pineapple. (Photo by John Cannell; design by Quinn Lemmers)

Because food brings us all together, Yahoo Life has a whole bunch of conversations around the table with people who are passionate about what’s on their menu. Deglazedseries about food.

With three million Preppy Kitchen subscribers on YouTube and over a million followers on Instagram, John Kennell has made it his mission to bring home fresh, family-friendly recipes for everyone to enjoy together.

In his new cookbook Ready-made cuisine: recipes for seasonal dishes and simple pleasuresKennell collects favorite meals that he, his 5-year-old twins George and Lachlan and his husband Brian cook together.

The family lives on a farm in Connecticut, so the menu always features seasonal and fresh ingredients. Kanell calls pizza night a favorite weekend activity, starting with making the dough from scratch, then adding sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings. “For Brian,” Cannell says, “it’s an extra pineapple. That’s all. Guys like it simple, but I like olives, mushrooms and peppers.”

Snacks are also seasonal at the Kanell house. In the summer, he goes into the garden and picks whatever is ready and ripe — like tomatoes and fresh herbs — and adds cheese and nuts to it to eat while he’s at the stove. In winter, it’s all about creamy macaroni and cheese and stewed tender root vegetables. He also likes a yogurt parfait between meals, preferably thick Greek yogurt or Icelandic skin filled with fresh fruit, granola, and nuts.

While Canell’s family kitchen contributes to his culinary fame on social media, it didn’t come from a vacuum. He grew up cooking on his Mexican mother’s side. “I always say I’m a chef my mom taught me,” he says. “We didn’t go out to restaurants because my mom always cooked these wonderful three-course meals. She grew up in a small village in Mexico where they cooked fresh food and made everything from scratch.”

Kanell says the most important lesson he learned in the kitchen was to believe in his own abilities and enjoy experimenting. “You find new things, try them, see what works and learn if it doesn’t,” he says.

This attitude came not only from his years cooking with his mother, but also from his previous career teaching high school math and science, which he taught for more than 10 years. His experience as a teacher informs his approach to cooking: watching just one of his recipe videos on YouTube gives some insight as he explains the scientific reasons for weighing ingredients accurately, shares what can happen if you don’t follow baking instructions to the letter and offers other detailed — yet affordable — tidbits to impress your friends with while they watch the magic come together in your kitchen.

“Math excitement is like culinary excitement,” Cannell says. “To be successful at anything, you need to be prepared and have the right tools. For cooking, this includes having the right ingredients and reading the recipe carefully.”

“You can be successful, love what you do and have fun in the kitchen,” he adds.

Allowing children to experiment, discover and learn is key to getting them actively cooking and helping in the kitchen, he says. “Many parents worry that their children may not have enough motor control to help,” Kanell says. “Start by having them help measure things: If they can pour sand into a bucket on the beach, they can pour a scoop of flour into a bowl.”

Kanell also encourages children to beat and stir ingredients with a spoon from the start. “You just pre-measure things for them and they can take the recipe from there,” he says. Kanell suggests trying “stir-together” recipes first—like pancakes and cornbread—where there are no mechanisms for little fingers to get caught in.

Why is it important to involve children in working in the kitchen? Kanell says it’s important to show them where their food comes from and informing them about what they are eating. “They feel like part of the family,” he tells Yahoo Life, “not just accepting the food, but helping to prepare it. Children like to feel that they are helping.”

Actually, that’s why she and her husband moved to their farm. “We wanted our children to have a better connection with the land,” he explains. “We wanted them to have their own vegetable plot where they could choose which vegetables to plant, look after them and harvest them. It’s valuable to us, and we hope it will be valuable to them as well.”

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