Sprouting Chefs: The small Ann Arbor business that kids are eating up

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

Sprouting Chefs founder and instructor Lilian Anderson (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR - When Lilian Anderson began what would become Sprouting Chefs cooking school nearly three years ago, she did it due to a lack of resources.

The registered dietitian was looking for a cooking class in town for her then-10-year-old daughter.

After her research produced no leads, she decided to open up her kitchen to teach kids the art of cooking.

"Apart from a variety of summer camp options, there was nothing available for kids on an ongoing basis in this area," Anderson said.

Students work together in teams to prepare a variety of recipes (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

"I quickly thought, 'I could do that!' I had previously taught cooking classes for adults. So, I offered about 10 classes that summer in my home, with room for four kids around my kitchen counter. I had a lot of fun doing it, the response was great and I sensed there was a much larger interest in something like this outside of my circle of friends and neighbors."

Anderson attended seminars at Washtenaw Community College's Small Business Development Center and received input from friends, family and community members. 

She says she received overwhelming support for her business and has social media to thank for spreading the word about Sprouting Chefs, which officially began in March 2016.

Students prepare cornbread (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Now Anderson holds classes in the industrial-sized kitchen at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 1500 Scio Church Road.

Classes can accommodate up to 10 kids, ages 8-16.

"Classes are typically three hours in length and focus on knife skills, food safety, nutrition, specific cooking techniques, team work, recipe reading, local and seasonal foods, and more," Anderson explained. 

"Classes that involve greater knife skills are designed for children ages 10 and older, and I have just started offering Teens Only classes."

She says she treats the kids like adults, and that with appropriate supervision and guidance, they are as capable as adults at mastering certain skills.

Students prepare the dessert for the day (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

“It’s an important life skill to know," said sixth-grader Lucas Caswell. "Cooking is also really fun and that's why I really like these classes. I've learned how to make a bunch of things."

"I’m a regular," said high school sophomore Allison Cowherd. "I want to do this in college. I love culinary arts. I like (the classes) because Lilian teaches me so much."

But it's not just cooking skills the kids are learning, explains Anderson, it's social skills as well.

"Classes typically start off on the quiet side," she said. "Kids come in knowing no one. Soon they are working as teams (sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups of four) and soon the conversation flows. We typically cook for about 2 ½ hours and end the class with a sit-down meal. It's wonderful to see them sharing a meal with a new friendship established."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

“This is my third class," said sixth-grader Sadie Todd. "The pasta class was my favorite because I got to work in a team and I got to meet some new friends and it was really fun. Here, everybody is equal and it’s fun because you get to share and you all like cooking."

What about picky eaters? Anderson says she's especially proud to see kids being more open-minded to foods they haven't liked before.

"When they see their peers enjoying it, when they played a significant role in preparing it, when they are surrounded by the good smells, etc., they become more open to trying new things," she said.

But you'll be lucky to get a spot. Classes have been selling out quickly months in advance.

Each team's blueberry apple crumble ready to go in the oven (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

To deal with the demand, Anderson will be hiring a second instructor this year and will be adding more teens-only classes.

Other plans include a summer class for young adults in the Delonis Center Culinary Program, an after-school mini culinary school series and expanding the Project Grow garden space across from the kitchen.

As for adult classes? They're not off-limits.

"While my focus is on children's classes, I do welcome private adult classes upon request," Anderson said. "I just refer to them as my 'older kids.'"

To learn more about Sprouting Chefs and to register for classes, visit its website.

See classes in action on its Facebook page.





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