Copyright 2020. Apples to Zucchini Cooking School. All Rights Reserved.

From Seed to School: Why We Started Apples to Zucchini Cooking School

People often ask how we came up the idea of Apples to Zucchini Cooking School. Cooking schools have been around for a long time. This was not a new idea. I think the better question is *why* we decided to start a cooking school for kids.

There have been several events over the course of my life that brought me to this inspiration. Just as a seed needs soil, water, and sunlight to grow, ideas need the right factors to grow, as well.

Let's cast back to my childhood. My grandfather and uncle were professional chefs in Austria, my mother's homeland. When I visited them in the summers, I saw a simplicity and confidence in the kitchen. And the food they produced was amazing.  My comfort food is rustic Wienerschnitzel with a squirt of lemon, fat apple

strudel enrobed in a delicate crust,  and dumplings -- sweet or savory -- paired with the perfect sauce.

This "cooking gene" skipped my mother. She had little interest in cooking; it was a chore and obligation to get dinner on the table every night. The exception to this sentiment was Christmas. When December rolled around, I saw a woman supremely confident in the kitchen. With me at her apron springs, we would whip up a dozen giant strudels for gift giving and Christmas Eve. On the 24th, my brother and I would form an assembly line to make schnitzel (often 40 or more), taking on more responsibility each year. There was joy in the kitchen.

Then the holidays would end, and we were back to the unsatisfying meals -- unhappy chef, unhappy diners. But I should emphasize that we sat down together every night, and lingered at the dinner table, talking about school, work, life, politics, economics, religion, and more. This was a gift from my parents.
Because I was learning how to cook Austrian food, I began to translate these skills into cooking other things. I read cookbooks and recipes in magazines (long before Pinterest and the Food Network), and taught myself to cook. By my junior year in high school, I was cooking dinner for my family most nights.

Fast forward about seven years. I was attending law school in San Francisco. To satisfy my need for creativity, I took a 12-week cooking course at HomeChef, similar to Williams-Sonoma. Over the 12 weeks, we learned "the basics of cooking". Stocks from scratch, sauces from roux and homemade stock, souffles (sweet or savory), pies and tarts, braising, poaching, roasting. I never practiced law, but I use those cooking lessons all the time!

Fast forward again. Twenty years after my HomeChef class, I was married with two kids and a dog, living in Santa Barbara. Three important things happened. My family was volunteering at the Foodbank, sorting donated produce. I looked at the produce that was destined for the families, and wondered if people knew how to prepare them. If I didn't know how to cook a vegetable, I would look it up online. Do families in low-income families have computers with reliable internet service? Even if they have access, do they know what "saute" or "poach" mean?

Around that same time, my older son participated in the $1.50 Challenge, where students were challenged to eat only $1.50 worth of food for the day. For a family of four, this would be $42 for a week. I was really struck by this challenge.  How can a family eat well on just $42 per week? I realized that if they did not know how to cook, they would be eating junk food or relatively expensive prepared food. If they knew how to cook, then staples like bulk rice, potatoes, pasta, fresh produce, and inexpensive cuts of meat could really go far.

The third important thing that was happening at the same time at the $1.50 Challenge and volunteering at the Foodbank was the rise of televised kids' cooking challenges. My family was hooked on "Master Chef Jr.", where children as young as 8 were cooking amazing meals in a short amount of time. Now, I'm not thinking of teaching the kids beef wellington, but our young people could certainly advance beyond "ants on a log."
These five elements -- cooking for my family at a young age, attending a twelve-week basics of cooking class, volunteering at the Foodbank, learning about the $1.50 Challenge, and watching Master Chef Jr. -- drove me to start a school where the next generation would know how to cook with confidence and creativity, would eat well without breaking the bank, and would create the next generation of home chefs.

So, please join me in the kitchen, cook a great meal, and linger at the table just a little bit longer.