Toronto’s first Montessori-inspired cooking school, Little Kitchen Academy (LKA), recently opened in the Toronto Beaches area. The cooking classes are designed for kids ages three through to teens. They’re focused on providing a safe, inspiring, and empowering space for children to identify, develop, and refine their senses.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, the concept was co-founded by proven global brand and franchise expert and serial entrepreneur Brian Curin, his wife, Montessori-trained, culinary expert, and visionary Felicity Curin, and social impact investor and entrepreneur Praveen Varshney, on the belief that by empowering children with practical life skills and knowledge in a positive and joyful environment, they and their company will effect positive lifestyle changes that result in a healthier world. True to its mission, LKA lives to create a more educated, able, and healthy society through mindful, healthy eating choices and is committed to changing lives, from scratch to consumption. Part of that mission includes empowering students to learn how they can make the world a better place.
As soon as Hailey Sexton and Eamon Clark heard about Little Kitchen Academy, they couldn’t help but feel this opportunity was made for them. Having both worked with their families for years – Eamon with his family helping to develop Rodney’s Oyster House, and Hayley working alongside her mother at their family-run Montessori school – the pair had always wanted to work together. They realized that opening their own LKA was the perfect blend of both of their skills.
We had a chance to chat with Sexton and Clark to learn more…
For people who may not be familiar with a Montessori environment – what would you say is a big draw to this way of experiencing the kitchen for children?
A Montessori education values the development of the whole child – physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. In a typical Montessori environment, you will find thoughtfully and scientifically created work that supports development and growth in language, math, practical life and sensory refinement. In our environment, we invite the children to discover science when adding heat to ingredients, math when calculating measurements in our visual measuring cups, and language development when reading recipes, or finding new words to describe what they are tasting.
Our Montessori-inspired pedagogy allows us to highlight a step-by-step process that is engaging and intelligent and plays to the child’s natural human tendencies and developmental stage, inviting them to work again and again until mastery is achieved. It also allows students to work at their own pace on what engages them the most, which is especially beneficial for our exceptional learners who might need a bit more time on a certain task or may be more interested in one area of the process as opposed to the other. We’re always so amazed to see how much one student enjoys chopping up their vegetables into precise, even pieces, while another student finishes the same task quicker so that they can spend more time washing dishes!
What do you love learning about the young students coming into your kitchen?
Every day our students bring us such joy and inspiration. Whether that’s watching one of our youngest students explaining how they organized their three ramekins in order from cold to warm to hot water or seeing a student help their sibling button up their chef coat, their brilliance is truly magical.
We also love seeing them develop their confidence and independence. At Little Kitchen Academy, we invite our students to make choices throughout the process; would they like to use honey or agave or maple syrup to sweeten their dish, would they like to taste brown sugar and white sugar to see the difference, would they like to harvest something fresh from our Living Food Wall powered by AeroGarden to add to their dish, would they like to spend more or less time washing dishes while their food is baking? Our students remind us that we just need to give them the environment to shine!
The teachings are also based on seasons – what more can you tell us about this?
At Little Kitchen Academy we love to talk about the wisest, oldest person in our world – Mother Nature! She is always thinking about our health and wellbeing. Mother Nature knows that we need lots of different nutrients at different times of the year and she makes sure they grow when we need them most. That’s why when you walk into Little Kitchen Academy in December, you will see students chopping up some delicious fresh kale or grating some beautiful purple beets, while in July you might see them chopping up some tasty fresh peaches or pitting locally sourced cherries!
Another reason for using seasonal ingredients is because produce always tastes best right after it has been harvested! We know that a child who may feel nervous to try a tomato will have a better experience if that tomato has been picked at the perfect time!
What can the students expect in a lesson?
Students experience a 3-hour class once a week over 3 or 4 weeks during the school year or over 5 consecutive days during Summer, Winter & Spring breaks. Every class they learn how to make healthy, delicious, and seasonal meals from scratch to consumption — all while experimenting with math and science concepts, working on their reading skills, and polishing up their table manners by sharing meals around our community table (made with more than 33,000 recycled chopsticks).
Every class, we make a new recipe from scratch to consumption. Recipes range from dishes like eggplant caviar to raspberry peach upside down cake to pumpkin chili! We never repeat a recipe, so students are always experiencing something new. They also learn to use different kitchen tools like our spiralizer (a student favourite!) or our visual measuring cups, which help our students learn fractions!
Often parents will say their kids are picky eaters, how do you handle that?
In our kitchen, we don’t use the term “picky eater” because we know that most of the time, our students just haven’t yet found a way a way of preparing that particular food that they enjoy. One of our favourite words is “yet” because there are so many different ways to prepare a food. Perhaps a child that has always said that they don’t like tomatoes will discover that they, in fact, DO like tomatoes when they’ve been picked, washed, chopped and slightly seasoned? Or maybe caramelized in the oven with garlic and salt and pepper?
We also encourage our students to plant, nurture, harvest and prepare produce because we know that when we are an active participant in our food choices, we will try them – and more often than not, ENJOY them! Our grow wall has plants at different stages of growth so we can observe, care for, and enjoy the literal ‘fruits of our labour’!
At the end of the day, we never force a child to eat anything in our kitchen. Instead, we celebrate them when they try a new food, and we even celebrate them for just considering a new food, even if they don’t feel ready to try it…yet!
Do you do birthday parties?
Although we LOVE birthdays at Little Kitchen Academy, we don’t host them. Providing 3-hour classes 3 times a day doesn’t allow for any time in our schedule, although a gift certificate to Little Kitchen Academy does make a wonderful birthday gift!