The excitement was palpable as a veritable mass of excited teens and tweens from all over Sonoma County converged on Ramekins Culinary School on Saturday to cook with none other than Food Network Star and all-around-good-fella Guy Fieri. Fieri was back in Sonoma Valley last weekend taping an inaugural segment of his new web show, Cooking with Kids, which will air on the foodnetwork.com sometime in March.
The Ramekins kitchen was crowded and a-buzz with activity as Sonoma Valley High School Culinary Arts students, along with high school students from around the county, arrived early to prep ingredients for making two recipes – a quesadilla and a smoothie – that they would later cook with a contingent of seventh and eighth graders.The event was a part of Fieri’s latest initiative, Cooking With Kids, a nonprofit group he founded recently to motivate and inspire parents to include their children in the kitchen and educate them about healthy eating. In fact, according to Fieri’s manager Tom Nelson, the chef helped draft legislation proclaiming the second Saturday in May as annual “Cook With Your Kids Day.” The legislation was unanimously passed in 2009.
But to the students, none of this really mattered as they readied ingredients, and later took their places at row upon row of cooking stations as the video production got under way. Fieri’s jovial personality soon infected the room as he commanded the crowd shouting questions like, “Are you ready to have some fun?” He passed around a microphone so students could tell him why they were interested in cooking. The answers ran the gamut, but generally kids said they liked to eat, wanted to learn how to cook good food and have fun doing it. All good enough for Guy.
SVHS juniors Marissa Mederios and Katelynn Gradolph, each students in Brigitta Crews’ Culinary Arts class, are both interested in continuing their culinary education and pursuing employment in the industry – exactly the spirit Fieri is hoping to inspire with CWK. The two looked comfortable in the kitchen as they prepped ingredients and readied themselves to mentor their student chefs. Similarly, seniors Tony La and Natalie Holshevnikoff chopped and measured, excited to take part in the event. For La, cooking is more of a hobby while for Holshevnikoff, baking has become a passion of sorts. “I’m really into making croissants right now,” she said.
Another CWK participant, Shane Enzensperger, is an SVHS senior ready to make his foray into the culinary world and has more than one potential internship lined up. About the event he said it was interesting to see the taste preferences the younger students had. “For them, it seemed less about flavor and more about what they wanted to eat,” as the kids selected from a myriad of ingredients for their custom smoothies. A big thumbs down for kale, which, while healthy, turned the concoction a murky, unappetizing brown color. His nugget of inspiration for the day – putting beans into a quesadilla, something the budding chef had never thought of before. “Watching the production unfold was interesting. And it was fun to watch Guy Fieri’s patience with his own son, Hunter, who was there. The day was really about inspiring the younger kids and he showed a lot of patience with them as he led them through the recipes.”
Each of the younger students wrote down their own custom recipes to take home and, after autographs and a photo session with Fieri, were sent away with emblazoned chefs coats and goodie bags. “This program is all about bolstering kids’ self-esteem and getting them interested in eating and cooking healthy foods,” said Nelson. “The feedback has been overwhelming and every one of the kids here walked out of here about two inches taller for the experience.”