ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2015
“It’s a funny thing, cooking and eating. We do it three times a day … you would think more of us would know how to do that for ourselves,” says the owner of Edible Education, Chef Ann Butler. Her strategy is to teach kids to cook, and teach them when they’re young. “If kids get to cut it, cook it, and taste it — they’ll eat it. Everybody’s happy when they are eating real food!”
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher, Be Inkandescent magazine
At Edible Education, founder and CEO Ann Butler’s mission is to empower kids with the culinary skills they need to create simple, healthy, recipes made with real food. The award-winning cooking teacher launched her company in 2011 and in the years since has worked with more than 20,000 kids in dozens and dozens of schools.
This is just the beginning of her big dream. We visited Butler at her corporate headquarters — an industrial kitchen called Source Kitchen & Market, which is located just outside of Richmond, VA. Here, other chefs rent space to cook up their creations, and area residents come in to host parties.
This is also where Butler houses her original patent-pending creation, Kitchen a la Cart,™ a comprehensive cooking system that’s literally on wheels. When it goes into classrooms, it helps transform teachers into culinary instructors. The fully stocked cart — complete with a hot/cold running-water sink, a kid-friendly stove that only heats up the magnetic pan that comes with the cart so kids don’t get burned, an oven, a blender, a food processor, and more. The cart is so versatile that it is now also popular with backyard chefs and football game tailgaters, the military, and even a NASCAR chef.
Butler’s focus on education is where her heart is. She was one of the first US ambassadors for Jamie Oliver’s annual Food Revolution Day, which is held in May each year. She also worked this year with the James Beard Foundation on its Better Burger Project,™ — and Butler been the assigned chef to more than 30 Richmond public schools with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chef Move to Schools program.
To teach, feed, and reach so many students, Edible Education employs more than a dozen chefs who all go out into the schools. The company’s reach extends beyond the public school classroom; for example, this summer Edible Education’s C.H.E.F. program worked with more than 600 students in Virginia, including nearly 100 at 4H. (Camp C.H.E.F. provides Culinary fun, Healthy lessons, Exercise, and Farming.)
Scroll down for our interview with the queen of cooking with kids.
Be Inkandescent: Take us back to the beginning of this sweet business. You came up with this idea in December 2011 after leaving your job as a high school Culinary Arts teacher. What was the impetus that led you to create a cooking school for kids outside school?
Ann Butler: High school kids are very smart and very eager to learn; however, they eat garbage. If I had to see one more kid walk through the door with Doritos and a Red Bull for breakfast, I seriously was going to pull my hair out. But the research shows that if you get to those kids at a younger age, you can actually make a difference, and that’s what we set out to do.
Be Inkandescent: That’s right. The Centers for Disease Control found that if children are exposed to 50 hours of food education by the time they’re 12, it changes the way they think about food for the rest of their lives. So, obviously it’s best to work with them young, in elementary school and even preschool. Tell us how you’re making this research come to life for thousands of kids.
Ann Butler: Once you get into the school system and you’re working with the kids, you don’t really need any studies — you can see it on their faces. Give the kids a cutting board; a safety knife; the opportunity to smell, touch, and taste the food; and have them cook it, and they absolutely will eat it! Once they are involved in the process, they have an ownership over the food and they are curious about what it tastes like. It’s really not very difficult to get kids to try the new foods.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us some of the stories you have from working with kids who are learning to work with food. You must regularly witness amazing things.
Ann Butler: We’ve had a 5th grader who had never eaten a strawberry before. We also had a 3rd grader who had never eaten a carrot because that child’s mom did not like the color orange. But my favorite story took place a couple of years ago, when we were doing a Parks and Recreation summer program with groups of 25 kids and three chefs who rotated through stations. It was omelet day, which requires eggs, so I had set up an Egg Education Station. A 7th grade student came in with a teacher’s aide because the student had autism and needed the aide to help him with daily tasks. He came over to my station and when it was time to crack the eggs, I gave every child an egg, including the 7th grader. His aide said, “Oh, no, I’ll crack his eggs for him.” I told her, “It’s okay — he can do it over again if he makes a mistake!” When he successfully cracked the egg himself, he immediately looked at me, and said, “Do you have a TV show?” When I said I didn’t yet, he said “I think I would like to have a TV show,” all because he got to successfully crack an egg.
Don’t get up from the table yet! Click here to read more of our our Q&A — and find her 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Cook.