When people learn that I founded a cooking school for children, they almost always say, “Oh, you are a chef.” And I always jump in and correct them, “No, I am a teacher.” To me, chefs are artists – creative people who get inspired by raw materials (forgive the pun) and transform them into something wonderful and delicious. An excellent chef, in my opinion, will inspire people – to try new flavors, taste the foods of different cultures or maybe even to cook more at home. But me? No, I am not a chef.
I try to inspire people too, but not through the food itself. I am a teacher – and my craft is intended to motivate. My goal is to inspire families to open fewer packages and cook a little more. My goal is to build the confidence of our children so that they will taste new foods and have a hand in their creation. My goal is to help children recognize what it means to eat real food, grown by real farmers. My goal is to encourage families to applaud their children’s efforts to be involved in their food choices…and listen when the kids ask them to consider the environment when they shop. My goal is for parents and teachers to understand that kids can learn through the act of cooking. And my goal is to empower kids to help those who need it – all through the power of food. Feed the Hungry. Feed the Sick. Feed the Homeless.
It’s hard to imagine that a girl who dreamt of becoming a veterinarian would end up running a certified green cooking school for children. Yet, here I am. What was the path that took me here, you might be wondering? I’ll see if I can trace the route – but I am horrible with maps…
I’ll start with college, I suppose. When that all started, I had every intention of becoming a vet. But then calculus and organic chemistry happened. I almost didn’t survive, but scraped by and graduated with a degree in Biology. I specialized in animal behavior and behavioral ecology, and spent much of my time outside, studying red tailed hawks and elephant seals (I am a Banana Slug, and proud of it!). After college, I spent 3 months studying monkey mating behavior on a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico (yes, I do have lots of interesting stories about that, but they aren’t appropriate for this family-friendly website!). It was really interesting, but made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for spending time alone with nature. I wanted to share it and tell people why they should care.
And so my career as a teacher was born. I went back to school to get my teaching credential, and then spent the next 5 years as a high school biology and environmental science teacher. I loved it – and my students and I enjoyed learning and exploring together. We gave workshops to local elementary school students and seniors in local residential facilities. We got grants to build a native plant garden and pilot a worm composting project. And we encouraged the entire school to begin recycling paper. It was amazing. And satisfying.
And then I started a family of my own. I didn’t see how I would have enough energy to parent my own children AND teach 150 students a day. So, I stepped away and spent a couple of years focusing on my babies. But it wasn’t enough. I craved more interaction. I wanted to teach again, but needed something flexible. So I did something I never thought I would do. I signed up to become a Pampered Chef consultant. It was a perfect opportunity for me at the time, since it would allow me to use my teaching skills and combine them with my love of cooking. I was able to cook for wonderful groups of people and teach them tips on how to save time and money in the kitchen. I was determined to inspire families to cook and eat meals together. But most of all, I was determined not to be pushy or do anything that might perpetuate some people’s negative stereotyping about the direct sales industry. I must not have been too obnoxious because I sold over $100,000 in Pampered Chef products, and had a positive experience in the meantime.
About halfway through my experience with The Pampered Chef, my friends started to encourage me to do more workshops with children. Others complained that they would go insane if they had to go to another gymnastics birthday party again. Pow! A the lightbulb went off. What if I could do cooking parties for children? And so it began. I put together a horrid website, registered a domain name (I can hardly believe I had a “.info” site for so many years. Ick.) and then started to let people know what I was doing. I was absolutely shocked when I got my first gig – but had to pretend like I had done these parties hundreds of times before. I brought the ingredients and tools to the home of the birthday boy – and we made our lunch. It went off without a hitch and has picked up speed ever since. Before I knew it, I was running a mobile cooking school for children.
My classes were offered through several local recreation centers and are in 8 of our local after school programs. I am not teaching these after school classes or birthday parties anymore, since I want to spend time with my own children (aka – being their chauffeur!)
I still do Speaking Engagements and Staff Development workshops where I talk to families/teachers/after-school programs about the educational and health benefits of cooking with kids. Now I spend most of my time writing, developing educational cooking with kids curriculum for families and teachers and social networking (is that even a verb?) I am fueling my passion by inspiring children to be confident and healthy. Life is good.
What about you? How did you get to where you are today?