As soon as her daughter was old enough to sit up, Kelly Montoya put a spatula in the baby’s hand. But years later, when the Portland-based media specialist (and former publisher of this magazine) set out to buy a cookbook for Bryce, by then 9, she came up empty-handed.
“The content was very dated,” she says. “It was a lot of the same foods over and over again: mac and cheese, pizza, hamburgers....”
So, in 2017, Montoya cofounded Little Sous, a cooking program that aims to teach grade schoolers how to make more than just junk—and to help reinvent the concept of “kid-friendly” foods. With original recipes sourced from some of the city’s most celebrated chefs, Little Sous teaches kids from 5 to 12 how to make restaurant-worthy dishes, from cardamom poached pears and sauerkraut to ratatouille tian.
Families can find free tips online from Country Cat co-owner Jackie Sappington and Ox’s James Beard award–winning Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton for, say, improving scrambled eggs. (Quiñonez Denton recommends whisking cottage cheese into the eggs to make them “extra fluffy.”) And as of this fall, there are pop-up cooking classes and events, like a chef’s tasting table with Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker or a lesson on how to incorporate fresh herbs into homemade sausages taught by Noble Rot’s Leather Storrs. There’s also the Little Sous Kitchen Academy, a monthly themed subscription box (think Blue Apron for kids) that costs about $25 a month.
“The recipes are designed to be done by children, or have children take the lead, so kids can be a little more active in the cooking process,” says parent and subscriber Katrina de Boer, adding that her 7- and 10-year-old were able to make ricotta cheese from scratch with minimal assistance.
If all this translates to adolescent aspiring cuisiniers whipping up curried sloppy joes or coconut–green onion biscuits for us elders, we certainly won’t complain. Bryce, now 11, recently claimed Friday as her night to cook.
“Kids can get grounded in their own palates, their own tastes, and their own sensibilities,” says Montoya. “They learn how to nurture their own bodies. And cooking teaches them how to nurture other people.”