"When I was four, my mother died and I went to live with my grandmother. I would follow her about and soon became her little helper in the kitchen. By the age of nine, I could prepare a roast dinner. My grandmother would fry the onions off for the stuffing, then I would make it and season the chicken. I would chop cauliflower and grate cheese, then we’d make the white sauce for cauliflower cheese. They are still the smells that take me back to that kitchen."
Respect, not rules
Don’t assume your child understands that an oven is hot, or not to stick their finger in a boiling pot. Kitchens are dangerous, but try not to instil fear. Teach them to respect everything: a knife because it’s sharp; the oven because it’s hot; ingredients because they’re expensive.
Start with baking
Start when they’re five or six and have learned some maths. At this stage it’s about learning to weigh and mix rather than cooking. Help them to read the recipe and the numbers on the scales to work out how much they need. Biscuits are great because it keeps it fun. By the time they’re eight or nine, children should be able to use a knife for simple chopping and a frying pan. Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to take instruction.
Cook, Cook, Cook
Cooking is an art like playing the piano is an art. Imagine if you were to say to your eight year old: “Go and play the piano. What do you mean you've forgotten? You played it last Christmas.” Cooking shouldn’t be reserved for high days and holidays; cook with them regularly.
Honesty isn’t always the best policy. If they mess it up, make light of it. “Was it really a good idea to put cornflakes and pepper in the batter?”
To supervise or not?
I wouldn’t leave a child under the age of 14 alone in the kitchen, no matter how responsible they are. Just keep an eye out from the kitchen table. The last thing you want is for them to get a bad burn or cut and lose their confidence. But when they do hurt themselves – and they will – try not to overreact.
John Torode runs Smiths of Smithfield in London
Junior MasterChef starts today at 4:30pm on BBC1 and CBBC