CHANNELING A LOVE FOR COOKING by Ellen Donker
Seth Boyden fourth grader hosts his own cooking show
Jacob Case never expected to be sharing cooking videos on Facebook. After all, he’s only 9 years old, with interests typical of boys his age. But when school was shut down in March, his mother, Paula Johnson-Case, asked him how he wanted to spend the time. Initially thinking they’d be stuck at home for just two weeks, she was looking for a short-term project.
They decided to cook together for those 14 days, capture it on video and post it to Facebook. And that’s how Cooking with Jacob was born. Since Jacob didn’t have much experience in the kitchen besides peeling carrots and snipping green beans, he had a lot to learn. For their first dish, they made fried plantains. Of those first episodes, Jacob says, “I was really afraid and nervous. That’s why, like, I think in my first three videos you can hear my mom talking. Because she was helping me.”
When the two weeks were up and the pandemic showed no signs of ending, Jacob decided to continue his show, just not on a daily basis. He now had school to attend (albeit virtually) and his mom had to go back to work. They decided to post on Wednesdays and Sundays while incorporating changes to produce better-quality videos.
“[In the beginning] we didn’t edit or care about the background. I wasn’t paying attention to the pots,” Johnson-Case says, laughing about the “food police” – followers who were giving her feedback about how to improve the videos.
Taking the advice to heart, she began clearing the counters, making sure they weren’t cluttered with items not needed for the shoot. And she learned how to use the video editor on her phone – the difference is noticeable. It enables her to trim her videos so they’re a more digestible length and add type overlays for recipe information or to fill in details that Jacob forgot to mention.
When Jacob gets upset and doesn’t want to finish an episode she can now cut out the frames. At 9 years old, he’s bound to have some “moments.”
Johnson-Case admits it’s a very tedious process, saying, “A five-minute video takes hours to do.” And though Jacob likes appearing in them, he qualifies it: “Well, mostly, but it does take a long time to get the video out. And then we have to, like, sometimes do a lot of retakes.”
As the director for the Early Headstart program at Unified Vailsburg Services Organization, all of this was new to Johnson-Case, at least the video and social media parts. She does have experience in the kitchen, having attended catering school after high school in Jamaica, but never pursued it professionally.
Johnson-Case is committed to keeping Jacob’s cooking channel going as long as he wants to do it. In the end, it’s not all about cooking. She says, “He’s learned more about me and I’ve learned about him.” Although he doesn’t always have patience for prep and cooking, he’s starting to understand processes and how some foods, like oxtail, a favorite, take a long time. And before he can cook Jacob helps shop for ingredients. Now he knows how to examine the fruits and vegetables and choose the right quantities. His videos show that he’s adept at using many kitchen accessories such as a deep fryer, a food processer, a blender, even a mortar and pestle.
Johnson-Case marvels at how much behind-the-scenes work goes into what they do. She says, “Now he’s more comfortable talking while he’s cooking.” And he’s learning how to present his work so it looks neat. Jacob adds that he watches people on YouTube to learn how to use his hands to better illustrate his points. “It helps you feel more comfortable talking on camera,” he says.
Of course, family and friends have taken notice of Jacob’s cooking show and pitch in to lighten the load. A cousin fixed up their Facebook page (he now has more than 800 followers), designed a Cooking with Jacob logo and ordered some swag. You can see Jacob sporting a personalized shirt, apron, oven mitts and more. Another cousin runs Jacob’s Instagram page (with 400-plus followers) where they feature shorter videos.
Although Jacob points out that his favorite foods to cook and eat are fried chicken and pizza, his recipe choices are quite healthy, preferring fresh ingredients over processed foods. He gets inspiration from several places, most notably his Jamaican grandmother. On one episode she made an appearance to teach him how to crack open a coconut with a hammer. Another video shows him making her recipe of cornmeal porridge. Since his mother follows a gluten-free diet and other family members are vegetarians, you’ll find him cooking up recipes to accommodate those preferences.
Jamie Oliver’s private Facebook group, Cooking Buddies Club, provides Jacob with plenty of recipes to try out – he’s gotten a number of glowing comments from Oliver about the videos he’s shared on the page – and he also cooks from Stop & Shop’s Savory magazine. In fact, when the Savory team found out, they featured Jacob on their Facebook page making a gluten-free version of their pretzel-crusted chicken strips. They also mailed him some of their branded cooking accessories.
Jacob’s dishes are sometimes celebratory, such as the gizzada he baked in honor of Jamaica’s 58th year of independence. You can catch him singing a Jamaican folk song at the beginning of that episode. And he honored his dad with breakfast for him on Father’s Day and his birthday.
To change things up, Jacob likes to cook with special guests, often sharing a dish from another culture. One of his highlights was to appear on acclaimed chef Noel Cunningham’s show, for which he made a J&N mocktail (that stands for Jacob and Noel) with frozen strawberries and mango. Family friends helped: Lidia taught him how to make Macedonian pizza; Lily from Dominica shared her recipe for a star fruit drink; and Ms. M guided Jacob in making one of his favorite dishes, Ghanaian jollof rice.
Even though school is virtual, Jacob has received recognition at Seth Boyden School where he attends fourth grade. He says, “My teacher shouts out my own cooking channel. My gardening teacher shouts out my cooking channel and so does my principal.” He continues, “My friends are happy for me. And I’m one of, like, the only people that do[es] videos in my school.”
As far as his plans for the future, Jacob aspires to be a coder and a YouTuber while cooking on the side. For now, though, he says, “We’re also coming up with some merchandise: Cooking with Jacob shirts, Cooking with Jacob aprons, Cooking with Jacob sweaters, hoodies, caps. And also we’re working on a calendar.”
Although keeping his cooking channel going takes a lot of effort, Jacob appears remarkably composed, cheerful and knowledgeable. He seems to genuinely enjoy making his show. Sometime around June he even developed a consistent way to close each episode. Looking straight at the camera and pointing to his imaginary audience, he says, “Thanks for watching and don’t forget – you’re awesome!”
To see Jacob in action, follow him on Facebook and Instagram @cookingwithjacob9. Parents who would like to share videos and pictures of their children cooking should join the Cooking with Jacob and Friends private page.
Ellen Donker looks forward to the spring when her chives are in bloom so she can make Jacob’s recipe for chive vinegar.
Sorrel Three Ways
Sorrel is an edible Caribbean plant and the flower is used fresh or dried to make a drink, especially during the yuletide season. Below are three ways that Jacob's family prepares and enjoys sorrel. Watch him making these recipes on Facebook page, @cookingwithjacob9.
1. Bring 16 cups of water to a rapid boil.
2. Add 3/4 pound of sliced ginger and one cup of water to blender or food processor and puree.
3. Strain ginger and add the juice to the boiling water. (For added spiciness, pureed ginger can be added directly the boiling without straining.)
4. Add 7 ounces of dried sorrel to the boiling water and ginger juice, stir and then turn off heat.
5. Cover pot and leave to steep for at least four hours or overnight.
6. Remove sorrel pulp by straining liquid into another container and set pulp aside for later use.
7. Set aside 4 unsweetened cups of the sorrel drink to be used for the smoothie and the preserve.
8. Sweeten 12 cups of the liquid with 4 cups of brown sugar or sweeten as desired.
9. Store in refrigerator. Flavors will develop further over time. Serve chilled or with ice. Garnish with fresh mint leaves (optional) and enjoy.
Note: Ginger enhances the flavor of the sorrel and individuals sometimes use more or less than a pound depending on their preference.
Blend the following ingredients:
1. 1/2 cup of the sorrel pulp – pulp is a little fibrous, so blend to desired texture.
2. 1 cup of frozen mixed berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries).
3. 2 cups of unsweetened sorrel drink.
4. Sweeten to taste with honey if desired.
5. Garnish with blueberries and fresh mint leaves (optional) and enjoy.
1. Add 4 cups of the sorrel pulp along with 2 cups of the unsweetened sorrel drink to a food processor or blender. Blend until a smooth consistency is achieved.
2. Add pureed mixture to a pot and bring to boil.
3. Add 2 cups of brown sugar.
4. Add 2 sticks of cinnamon.
5. Add 3 whole cloves.
6. Let boil on high flame for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
7. Adjust sweetness as desired by adding more sugar.
8. Reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally until desired consistency is achieved.
9. Allow to cool then pour in a jar and store in the refrigerator.
Enjoy with peanut butter and crackers, crackers and cheese, bread or bagel.