[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]
When Nancy Martz was a law student in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, she enrolled in a 12-week cooking class.
Classes – which she took “just for fun” – were structured so that each week built on the previous week’s classes; The broth turned into sauce, followed by casserole.
By the time she graduated, she was making gourmet pastries — and found her newfound love for cooking.
Turns out she’d never practice law, but she says she’s been cooking ever since.
20 years later, Martz is now the CEO of Apples to Zucchini, the cooking school she started six years ago.
She founded the Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Cooking School to teach children and young adults how to make nutritious, affordable meals from real foods.
While that cooking class long ago gave Martz a solid knowledge base — and the mistake of donning a cooking apron — it was a volunteer experience at the Santa Barbara County Foodbank coupled with a challenge for her son’s class in Marymount of Santa Barbara, from it the idea of founding the cooking school was born.
“My family and I were sorting groceries at the food bank, and there was this mystery vegetable, and I figured if a family gets this item in their shipment, they might not know what it is,” she recalled.
“You could look it up, but that assumes everyone has access to the internet.”
A to Z has many recipes to draw from even though flames aren’t allowed and electricity isn’t available. (Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Photo of Cooking School)
Around the same time, her son’s class was presented with a social justice/math challenge involving how to feed a family that spends only $1.50 a day.
“It’s not easy supporting a family on this budget, and I realized that to spend the money, you have to be able to cook,” Martz said.
However, she also argued that budget-constrained parents are likely to hold multiple jobs and don’t have time to cook. But maybe their children, who are at school until 5 p.m.
“We want to achieve that,” she said.
Martz brought her idea to the Santa Barbara Foundation, which provided financial support. In March 2016, Apples to Zucchini taught its first class in the after-school program at Brandon School in Goleta.
Soon after, students at Adams, Ellwood, Monte Vista, and Washington schools were dicing onions and crushing garlic.
“This program is for all kids,” Martz said. “There are just as many families with beautiful kitchens who rarely turn on their stoves and call Uber Eats.”
Today, A to Z reaches 120-140 people each week and offers 10 classes per week, summer camps and private party options.
The nonprofit organization now operates independently of the Santa Barbara Foundation as a 501(c)(3) and is funded by program fees, grants and philanthropic contributions. Money raised goes directly to supporting programs for low-income and at-risk youth supported by a variety of nonprofit partnership programs.
The school’s philosophy is simple: prepare nutritious meals together, eat together and clean up together.
The classes teach life skills, as children learning to wash dishes also tend to do their own laundry and clean up after their dogs. It turns out that getting chores done and sharing meals with your family has been shown to lead to better outcomes in other areas of life.
Cooking from A to Z also emphasizes the importance of etiquette so that students not only learn knife skills and the differences between whisking, slicing and frying, but also practice the school’s “1-2-3” rules for eating together will:
1) Napkins on the lap.
2) Make sure everyone gets served.
3) Thank the chefs.
Phones aren’t allowed at the dining table, and Martz said her favorite thing to do is just sit and listen to the kids connecting.
For many, Apples to Zucchini has been the only source of connection during closures amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“We never closed our doors,” Martz exclaimed.
Cooking classes were moved to the Garden Street Academy campus garden, while other classes were held on Pilgrim Terrace or on the beach.
“For some children, during the peak of the pandemic, we provided their only interaction with others,” Martz said.
A to Z offered specially created pods as well as public courses.
“The need was great, so we extended our working hours to give the children time to play and socialize,” said Martz.
With fully stocked food trucks, A to Z can offer cooking classes just about anywhere and has plenty of recipes to draw from even when flames aren’t allowed and electricity isn’t available.
The cost of outfitting one wagon is $1,000, and this provides enough material for several classes of 12 children. Many of the recipes are plant-based and all animal products are locally and sustainably sourced.
Whether it’s in an after-school program, a youth treatment center, or a backyard birthday party, A to Z hopes to fight hunger on the Central Coast by giving kids the tools they need to create delicious, nutritious, and affordable meals their families to prepare from real food.
Click here for more information about the Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) cooking school. Click here to make an online donation.
– Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk author. She can be reached at [email protected].