published Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Kennedy: New Easy-Bake oven breaks gender barrier

Hooray for Hasbro!

The toy company announced last week that it will soon make its popular Easy-Bake oven in boy-friendly colors, blue and silver.

The announcement came in response to a complaint from a New Jersey girl who wanted to buy an Easy-Bake oven for her 4-year-old brother, but found the company's standard purple and pink models way too girlie.

I'm with you, sister.

My little sister, who is four years younger than me, had an Easy-Bake oven in the 1960s. I still remember the sugary smell of white cake baking under an incandescent light bulb. Because of the Boy Code in place at the time, I could never have asked for one for myself.

My dad, a former Army master sergeant, taught me how to cook. Every time we prepared a meal together, he would remind me (putting extra bass in his voice): "You know son, the best chefs in the world are men."

Stereotypes about male and female roles were so strong back then that he felt the need to issue this disclaimer every time we rattled the pots and pans. Still, I learned enough to cook dinner for our family of four -- and often did -- during my elementary-school years.

If you ask me, nothing is more lame than a grown man who can't follow a basic recipe, or who claims to need a woman for everyday kitchen chores. I was single until age 38, but I never missed a meal and can cook almost anything I want to eat. My specialties are lasagna and hand-battered chicken fingers.

Our youngest son, age 6, seemingly came out of the womb ready to cook.

He loves to watch cooking shows on TV -- "Next Great Baker" is his favorite -- and he spends hours in the kitchen chopping vegetables into molecule-sized bits. Give him a pairing knife and he can turn a pound of broccoli into a pile of green dust.

Some of the cooking shows we watch together involve overstuffed food critics and aspiring chefs who say stupid, stilted things like: "I see sushi as a metaphor for different levels of human existence."

To which, I would add, "I see Spam as an emerging belief system."

My 11-year-old son, meanwhile, doesn't have a clue about cooking. He did a report for school the other day, listing foods that are popular in Norway. Somehow he got meatballs and moose steaks mixed up and reported that Norwegian people have a taste for moose balls. (Thankfully, my wife caught the error before he turned in his report.)

Meanwhile, my younger boy will get a selection of cooking utensils for Christmas: measuring cups, cookie cutters and the like. And he will spend long winter afternoons holed up in the kitchen making imaginary dishes and talking to himself.

I'm glad I live in a world where he isn't considered quirky or different for pursuing his passion.

My dad was right, some of the best cooks in the world are men.

Now imagine how good the next generation of male chefs will be if they all grow up using Easy-Bake ovens. Their cooking is liable to be good enough -- as my people used to say -- to make your tongue slap your brains out.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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