It started in a parking lot...
While waiting for my daughter to emerge from gymnastics class, I watched kids of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities coming and going. Having been bombarded with news headlines about the state of health of our nation’s children, I struggled to connect the dots—why were these kids, living right here in the food bowl of America, also fraught with obesity, diabetes, and other food related challenges. Despite the abundance of seasonal fresh produce in California, it seemed convenience over substance had become the cultural norm.
Bridging the Gap...
The idea behind Jr. Chef Central was simple. Teach kids, ages 10-15, how to cook. Incorporate the circle of life of food so they would be educated cooks and consumers—from the farm, to the market, to the grocery store, to the plate. Build a foundation based on solid culinary skills, nutritional facts, and the table as a community. Structure the program so all participants would learn to be comfortable wherever and with whomever they were breaking bread—no matter the company, place, or occasion. Use time-tested methods of instruction: Treat every child as capable of accomplishing every task required; tell, demonstrate, assist, let go.
One Plate at a Time...
Seems we’re doing something right! Dedicated instructors and culinary professionals have learned through our program to consistently impart information to young people whether in small classes of 12, groups of 75, or crowds of many more. This style of teaching has worked with children from all walks of life and with multiple levels of ability—Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, ADD, vegetarians, picky eaters, and budding connoisseurs alike. We’ve been honored to take part in an academic research program providing health-enhancing experiences for kids, including meal preparation, to affect academic performance. And in a grant funded program, targeting lower-income elementary students, teaching preparation skills using seasonal fresh produce—all with a focus on teamwork, knife safety, sanitation, and dishes prepared from scratch that they can make at home. Parents constantly tell me “I can’t believe you got my child to eat this!” The truth is, I didn't get them to do anything they didn't want to do. Because they had a hand in deciding what to make, and two hands in making it, they were eager to eat. And just as proud to share what they made with others.
Karla Lacey, Founder
Amanda Arnold, Director
I began my journey with Jr. Chef Central as a parent of a Jr. Chef. My stepdaughter was interested in cooking and I signed her up for a Basic Camp. After she completed the Advanced Camp in the summer of 2008, Chef Karla announced the first Jr. Chef Central Kids Culinary Convention and I volunteered to help at the convention. After that day, I was hooked and became a regular volunteer (Jr. Chef groupie) until the spring of 2009 when I became the Operations Manager. After the summer of 2009, Chef Karla made the decision to move to Bermuda and take a position as the CEO of the Bermuda Hospitality Institute and run a Jr. Chef Central program in Bermuda. In the summer of 2012 with the help of my incredibly supportive husband, we took over the operation of Jr. Chef Central in the Sacramento area.
Prior to my work with Jr. Chef, I spent many years in the Food Service and Hospitality Industry. I have a passion for eating healthy and have found my calling in sharing that passion with young people!
Brenda Ruiz, Jr. Chef Instructor
Chef Brenda was instrumental in the start up of Jr. Chef Summer Camp with Chef Karla and has added many accolades to her resume since the first time she worked with Jr. Chef Central in 2006. Chef Brenda has worked in Sacramento's top restaurants including The Waterboy, Freeport Bakery, The Kitchen, and Biba Ristorante. Highly regarded among her peers for her skill and work ethic, she's known for combining her love of the culinary arts with her passion for kids. Chef Brenda serves on the Executive Advisory Committee of Slow Food Sacramento as Director of the School Garden Coalition and Chair of Youth and School Projects. Chef Brenda is currently working as the Kitchen Classroom Coordinator at Grant High School's GEO Academy, a certified Food Genius with Food Literacy Center, and a graduate of Alice Waters's Edible Schoolyard Academy.