How I Ended Up Starting a Cooking School for Kids
This article is made possible by the folks at Culinary Artistas
By Vanessa Silva
Writing this article feels like registering the happy ending of a Cinderella story, a kind of culmination of a long journey that, although far from the end, describes the trajectory from a place of loss and yearning to self-realization and success, despite all odds. And this is not exactly a love story, at least not a romantic one, but the very short version of how I got to spend every day of my life doing what I love, sharing with others, and hopefully contributing to a happier society. This is the story of how I created and directed my dream business. With it, I hope to inspire young and old people to connect with and build a career on their talents and passions, rather than on what they think they “should” do. Besides, if you stick with it, there is a giveaway for FREE cooking classes at the very end of the article!
I was born in Brazil, the first daughter in a family of immigrants, and since childhood was imbued with a deep sense of responsibility and an obligation to build a life better than my parents’. That translated into finding a high-paying profession, preferentially as a banker, lawyer, or engineer. There was not a lot of space to explore anything in the arts or any other “less prestigious” career.
I was also born with a natural love of and a talent for cooking. Early on that talent and love was more about eating than cooking. I learned that if I lingered in the kitchen while the food was being prepared, I would have access to the first nibbles before anything was served to the rest of the household. I also happened to be a shy kid, so the kitchen was a place where I could find refuge and escape my mother’s attempts to send me to play with other kids in the neighborhood.
As I got older I started to realize that I had a talent for cooking. My first dish at eight years old was beef Stroganoff—a clear indication that I was a kid of the seventies—and by the time I was ten years old, I was the official cook when my parents had friends over for dinner. I’d prepare one of the two dishes I had mastered—fish moqueca, a fish stew from northeastern Brazil, and my famous beef Stroganoff—which I repeated over and over again, receiving praise every time.
This was when the kitchen became one of my favorite places to be.
Flash forward a few years. In my late teens, it was time to choose a track for college. Cooking and hospitality would have been my top choices, but in my family’s eyes, they were not “good enough.” We ended up compromising on food engineering, at the time one of the most promising careers in Brazil. It didn’t take more than six months for me to realize that my mind wasn’t in engineering, but I dutifully completed college and a year later moved to San Francisco, where I pivoted to a successful career in technology, not food technology but web technology.
It was the mid-nineties, the internet was in its infancy, and I had a job at a reputable digital agency in Silicon valley—my daughterly obligation was fulfilled. But the love for cooking never left me. I found myself traveling and living abroad: Prague, Corfu, São Paulo, and Bangkok. In each place I visited for more than a few weeks, I found a stage (unpaid internship in kitchen language) in a local restaurant.
By the time I was in my late thirties and had become a mom, I decided that it was time to give myself the chance for a second career finally doing what I loved: cooking!
I started with what I knew best: being a good student. I went back to school to get my master’s in holistic nutrition. Meanwhile, I was juggling a few small businesses: first making and delivering artisanal soups for babies, then creating a bone broth formula for pregnant and nursing women, and then starting a cooking camp for my daughter’s preschool buddies. I had a certain degree of success but not enough to support my small family. All of those together were satisfying but also exhausting and barely gave me enough income to live on.
Finally, on a stroke of luck, I was approached by another woman entrepreneur that wanted to open a cooking school for kids at Ghirardelli Square, a highly prestigious and beautiful location in San Francisco, where I live. Better yet, she was the investor and me, the sweat partner. I jumped on it without looking back.
Today, six years later, the cooking school is thriving. We teach kids not only at our studio location but also at almost a dozen schools around town. We also expanded to hosting corporate cooking experiences both in person and virtually. I have a competent, dedicated, and happy team of culinary educators, event planners, and chefs. I spend my days and evenings in the kitchen hosting people of all ages, cooking, laughing, connecting, and yes, teaching. I see their joy, their connection, and sometimes, their surprise that they can actually cook. And when they are happy, I am triumphant. I have finally connected with my superpower.
GIVEAWAY: Enter to win a FREE virtual cooking experience for unlimited guests and ten complimentary Ingredient Kits shipped right to your door, just in time for your corporate holiday party. A $2600 value!