My story is long. But I look at it like a collection of ingredients, cultivated and harvested when the time was right to create the ultimate recipe.
Little Kitchen Academy didn’t start out as Little Kitchen Academy, it was a dream called “Sweet Maddies.” A beautiful, child-centered bakery. It was filled with brightly coloured creative treats displayed at child’s-eye level and sneakily made with healthy fruits and vegetables. It was named after my mum, whose immeasurable love for children was passed on to me. I knew the location, I smelled the aroma, I saw the children empowered to make choices on their own. I saw parents pleased because their children were eating veggies and not knowing it!
And as this dream sat on the sidelines while my husband and I raised our three daughters, different events in our lives prompted me to wonder why we had to sneak healthy choices into our kids. Why couldn’t nutritious food be desirable too?
I look to my past and start collecting.
I grew up in Dunbar, racing my brother and sister up 29th Avenue to Ling’s Market (now Starbucks) with 75 cents to spend on candy, yes, 75 cents would get a whole bag! Tossing our bikes against the motorcycle repair shop-turned Sodas-turned The Dunbar, we’d go in and find our favourite sugary treat. Shopping for special outfits at The Peppermint Tree (now Stong’s), going back and forth with a soccer ball in Dunbar Park as a “Dunbar Coolcat,” and always running into our teachers from ICS and my brother’s teachers from St. George’s. Dunbar was our ‘hood.’
I worked for Earls Restaurants while in school and it had a wonderful program where the Chef de Cuisine mentored and trained interested cooks to become Red Seal Chefs.
I was taken by the order, routine, and efficiency of the kitchen and asked to move from front of house to the kitchen. I loved my time in the kitchen. When they decided to expand into the U.S. market, I was chosen to lead the expansion. Training hundreds of staff to feel the passion and excitement for their job was a task I loved.
Newly married to the man that put Cold Stone Creamery on the map and fearing nothing, my husband and I decided to combine our skills and bring Cold Stone Creamery to the Caribbean as the Master Franchisee. We fell in love with the idea of beach life; constant sunshine, jasmine scented evenings and lots of ice cream. Building a business from scratch, working within a franchise system, and developing a concept in a foreign territory was one of the biggest challenges we were to face. Within a year, we successfully opened the first international Cold Stone Creamery franchise and were the first million-dollar location. We were busy, we were hustling, and we were pregnant with twins!
Selling our growing business on the islands led us back stateside and Brian joined as a partner heading up all branding and marketing for what would become the fastest growing multi-brand franchise company in North America, introducing several category leading brands to the world including, Planet Smoothie, Shane’s Rib Shack, Monkey Joe’s, and the company’s flagship brand, Moe’s Southwest Grill. I was at home with our three girls (at this time the twins were three and our youngest was one) teaching them how to read, plant vegetable gardens, dress up, and make messes.
In 2006 I was devastated when I lost my mum and we decided to put family first and moved back to Dunbar. It was very special to walk the neighbourhood I grew up in with my young family. We spent countless hours pushing our girls on the swings at Dunbar Park, and slathering on sunscreen at the Chaldecott Water Park.
My dad had successfully founded one of the most spectacular schools in Canada, West Point Grey Academy, and we were lucky to join their supportive community.
I immersed myself in all things school. When our youngest began Pre-K, I became fascinated with the Montessori Method. I volunteered in the classroom as much as I possibly could. I was not only in awe with what our daughter was learning, but how she was learning. I needed more. I went back to school to become an expert in the Montessori pedagogy. During my studies it became clear to me that my direction at Sweet Maddie’s was wrong. We don’t need to trick our children into healthy choices. We need to provide an environment where our children can feel empowered to try healthy foods on their own.
During my master’s program, my healthy, athletic 38-year-old husband had to have emergency life-saving open heart surgery. (At that time he was building Flip Flop Shops into the darling of the retail industry throughout world.) The discovery of his hidden heart disease and subsequently understanding that our three children are pre-dispositioned to it allowed us to look at our already healthy diet and lifestyle and see where we could improve it. This only fueled my passion for nutrition. Where does our food come from? How does it benefit me? How do I make healthy foods taste great?
I often hear “my child won’t eat that” or “my child doesn’t eat anything green.” Many times, this comes from lack of language skills. How often are children exposed to a food and helped to discover different words to use to describe their observations? When a child says they don’t like tomatoes, that isn’t always a true statement. Perhaps they don’t like raw tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes. Big tomatoes. Salty. Hot. Mushy. It’s possible our children haven’t been exposed to different descriptors so “I don’t like” will cover it.
Let’s give them a place to discover what kind of tomatoes they don’t like…or better yet, what kind they do!
One of my favourite things to do when our children have friends over is to cook or bake together. I find willing helpers at all ages. They love to get involved and offer suggestions or opinions. I am always surprised at the varying degrees of confidence in the kitchen. The only constant is the enthusiasm. While making recipes we expose children to basic fundamentals of math. They learn patterns, yields, time management, fractions. They work with science. Adding or subtracting heat from matter, watching yeast bloom, adding different elements to form reactions. They strengthen their reading. Going through a recipe together. Adding notes along the way. Learning descriptive words.
At this time I feel I have all of the ingredients gathered. Classically trained in the kitchen, ECE degree, AMI degree (Montessori), passionately fueled interest in nutrition. Business developer, marketing and branding master.
We feel so fortunate to be raising a second generation Dunbar family; one of our daughters works at Stong’s, (her twin works down the street at Browns), our youngest drips buckets of sweat at least three times a week at Third Eye Martial Arts, and surrounded by a community of unparalleled support, there was no question that the Dunbar area would host our first location.
And with this direction, Little Kitchen Academy was born.
Little Kitchen Academy
3744 W 10th Avenue, Vancouver BC V6R 2G4