Party on…


Most stress-free way to cater a child’s birthday party? Let the professionals – and the kids – do all the work, says Elise Rana Hopper

Along with friendship dramas, homework battles and sew-on badges, children’s birthday parties are one of the many challenges that make parenting such an, um, endless adventure.

With the youngest daughter about to turn seven, we were past the stage of being able to hand over birthday party crowd-control duties to the bored teenage staff at the local soft play, but not quite at the stage of bunging cash behind the bar at the local pub and leaving them to it. At seven, you want something to impress your friends without scaring their parents.

“I’d like a cooking party for my next birthday,” she’d announced – exactly a year previously, actually during that year’s swimming birthday party.

“Mmmm-kay,” I mumbled and hoped she’d forget, visualising the stress, mess and general distress potential of letting a bunch of hyper-active children loose in my kitchen. She didn’t forget. So 11 months and some frantic Googling later, imagine my relief when I discovered there was indeed a way to leave it to the professionals.

As well as its restaurant and banquet hall, Newcastle’s Blackfriars Restaurant also has a busy calendar of events and workshops in which children’s cookery classes are a regular feature. “We were asked almost straight away if we could run parties,” says co-owner Sam Hook. “The response is always really good from both parents and children – the parties are educational and fun, helping to increase children’s confidence in the kitchen. The children cook their own lunch so catering is taken care of and anything the children cook and don’t eat can also go in the goodie bags, which is another item ticked off the list.”

Sold! So while Chinatown bustles into life on a bright Sunday morning we make our way to the cloister garden of the restored
13th Century friary, where our party helpers Emma and Laura are waiting for us in the kitchen.

The other parents skedaddle to make the most of some child-free shopping time and the kids excitedly apron up and pull up stools around the granite-topped central bench, eyeing the bowls of flour and sniffing the frothy cups of yeast while we sit back and watch with a cappuccino in hand. So far, so stress-free.

No sooner are the kids’ hands washed than they’re encouraged to plunge them into the bowls. They develop their own styles of kneading but get the job done until each claggy mess is miraculously transformed into a ball – or ‘booby’ (cue giggles). They’re set aside while the kids get on with the biscuits; everyone getting a turn weighing out the ingredients and mixing with determination and several bouts of horsing around until again, by some miracle, a dough is formed. Everyone gets a portion to roll out and cut into hearts and flowers, and Emma and Laura know when to help and when to leave them to it.

The biscuits go in the oven and the pizza dough comes back. The ‘boobies’ have puffed up into ‘giant brains’ that ‘wobble like bellies’ before being knocked back and rolled out. The selection of toppings is warmly received (“sauce! I love sauce! cheese! I love cheese!”) and lavishly applied to the wonky oblongs with
creative abandon.

The pizzas go into the oven and there’s time to mix up one more delight – blueberry muffins. When at last it’s time for lunch, the sun is shining so the requisite pitchers of blackcurrant squash are taken outside to the cloister garden, where, in between cartwheels and wheelbarrow races, the kids get to enjoy their own hand-topped slice of pizza perfection.

There is Victoria sponge cake there is singing and blowing out of candles, and then there’s time for the arduous task of decorating the biscuits. Restraint isn’t the order of the day, but there’s plenty of pride taken in each multi-coloured maximalist creation. It’s been a big success, and another parenting lesson is learned; even the most hands-on home cook can benefit from letting someone else do the hard work occasionally, and we go home with a happy birthday child – to a perfectly clean kitchen.

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