Kitchen Confidence

A new North Idaho business promotes healthy cooking and skill building for budding young chefs

click to enlarge Joey Garcia teaches a class. - CARRIE SCOZZARO
Carrie Scozzaro
Joey Garcia teaches a class.

They may need to stand on tiptoes or use two hands to push the spoon through thick cookie batter, but the KinderCooks students at the newly opened Young Chefs Academy make up for their small size with big enthusiasm.

Finley Dupree, for example, is a 5-year-old ponytailed pixie who loves to cook, says mom Kim Dupree, who owns the Blue Plate Cafe in nearby Hayden and cooks with Finley at home.

"She's with her peers," says Kim, who enrolled Finley in classes six weeks ago to provide structure and social time with like-minded 4-to-6-year-olds. Finley has gained confidence from the classes and by recreating recipes at home for her family. An added bonus, says Kim, is that Finley has become less finicky in her eating: "She has to at least try everything she's cooked."

Young students are divided into age groups (Kinder, 4-6; Junior, 7-11; Senior, 12-17), paying from $20 to $25 per hour for weekly classes, or $69 to $79 monthly. Special programs include private party sessions and a "master chef" class starting this fall, as well as an upcoming fundraiser to benefit kids with cancer. This summer, Young Chefs offers a series of themed, weekly summer day camps called Camp Can-I-Cook.

Weekly class menus are thematic. Reminiscent of Sesame Street, the Kinder class we visited made lemon squares and lemonade. Older kids, meanwhile, are learning about regional Italian cooking, including pici all'aglione (an eggless noodle) and prosciutto e melon from Central Italy.

Fun is important at Young Chefs Academy, a chain founded in 2003 by motivated parent Julie Burleson and based in Texas, with 20 locations in the U.S. and one in Canada. The new Hayden location is the first in the Northwest. Franchisees Amber and Joey Garcia's 10-year-old daughter previously tried YCA classes in California and liked them.

"Young Chefs Academy is all about teaching kids the joy and value of cooking in a fun and positive atmosphere," says Amber Garcia. "With the popularity of all the cooking shows on TV, being a chef and learning how to cook is 'cool.' To be a mentor and see our students' excitement for cooking is rewarding beyond measure." ♦

Young Chefs Academy • 293 W. Prairie Shopping Center, Hayden, Idaho • Hours vary based on class offerings • • 208-772-6807

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Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Continues through Sept. 27
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