Naperville will be home to one of three Montessori-inspired Little Kitchen Academy cooking schools for kids opening in Illinois.
Located in Vancouver, Canada, the school provides children ages 3 through high school with an environment in which they learn how to use kitchen appliances safely, make better food choices and, perhaps most importantly, for parents to clean up after themselves.
Brian Curin, co-founder/co-CEO and president of Little Kitchen Academy, said the environment is critically and mindfully designed to allow a child to thrive and follow the path to independence.
“It could just learn how to crack an egg properly, how to disinfect surfaces and wash your hands properly, or about sustainability and the circular economy because we almost exclusively just produce compost and recycle with no waste,” he said.
The idea behind the Academy’s “Scratch to Consumer” philosophy came from Curin’s wife, Felicity, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO.
“She has the Montessori background and the culinary background and wanted to marry the two loves and passions,” said Curin.
As parents of three daughters, the Curins often invited their children’s friends over for dinner.
“They were picky eaters or picky eaters, and the parents were like, ‘We don’t eat vegetables,’ or whatever,” Curin said.
What the Curins realized was that when people grow their own food, cook their own meals, have choices and options, and understand where their food comes from, all that choiceness goes away.
Little Kitchen Academy strives to select fresh foods that are local, seasonal, contain more nutrients, lead to a healthier lifestyle and are actually less expensive, he said.
The locations in Naperville, Plainfield and Chicago are being rolled out in stages by franchise partner Randall Barba, owner of Goldfish Swim Schools in Naperville and North Plainfield and two other states.
There are plans to open the culinary academy alongside Plainfield Swim School while he searches for a spot in Naperville and Chicago.
Naperville was an obvious choice, Barba said, because it’s very family-oriented and kid-centric.
He’s drawn to companies that teach life skills, he said.
“I love the idea that after they’ve learned everything,[kids]can cook and then eat their end product,” Barba said. “I think this is a great opportunity to educate children, educate them and introduce them to cooking and self-sufficiency.”
Sessions for the three-hour courses run throughout the year and are organized by age group – 3 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 and over. Up to 10 students are supervised by three teachers per class.
Regardless of age, classes begin with children donning a chef’s coat and learning to wash their hands properly before working through the day’s recipe by collecting, washing and preparing ingredients.
Classes apply age-appropriate math and science skills in real-world settings.
The curriculum for ages 3-5 focuses on strengthening gross motor skills and developing and refining fine motor skills, as well as discovering different ways to make fruit and vegetables more engaging.
Younger children also build communication skills by describing what they like and don’t like. Instead of making a blanket statement like “I don’t like tomatoes,” children can say, “I like tomatoes when they’re seasoned.”
For students aged 6 to 8, it is all about imagination and abstraction, e.g. For example, finding different ways to make their food taste better.
You’ll also be exposed to real-life fractures and splits when slicing up a whole pepper, and the science of where food comes from and how it benefits the body.
With 9-12 year olds who are aware of their social environment, the sessions stimulate conversations about different dietary beliefs and needs, recycling and composting practices, and local and organic diets.
You are also encouraged to think about tweaking recipes.
LKA Late Nights was created for teens as a place to meet up with friends, snap photos for social media and leave with renewed confidence and skills in the kitchen.
Classes teach teens about nutrition and how their choices impact the environment and planet, so families can feel comfortable sending their teens on their next adventure with the opportunity to eat healthy ingredients.
Since opening to students in 2019, the academy has had a repeat rate of more than 30%, according to Curin.
Students who come to class come every week, he said, “so that it becomes part of their regular daily activities, just like soccer, taekwondo, dancing or whatever it might be.”
In addition to offering its own courses, the academy works with public and private schools, daycare centers, Montessori schools and home school communities to improve their curricula, Curin said.
Similar to a field trip, schools send students four weeks in a row to learn valuable and practical skills once a week as part of the core curriculum or enrichment, he said.
Week-long sessions are also scheduled in summer, winter, and spring when school calendars allow, allowing time for more complex recipes that students can build on day-to-day.
Curin said the reaction from adults is often “I wish I had this growing up” or “I wish my kitchen could look like this.”
That leads to one of the two biggest questions Curin hears: Can adults take the course?
The answer is no, as is the answer to the other question – whether the academy hosts birthday parties.