[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]
When Nancy Martz was at law school in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, she enrolled in a 12-week cooking class.
The course – which she took “just for fun” – was structured so that each week built on the previous week’s lesson; the broth became sauce, followed by the soufflé.
By the time she graduated, she was baking gourmet pastries and exploring her new found love for cooking.
It would turn out that she would never have practiced law, but, she says, she has been cooking ever since.
Fast forward 20 years and Martz is now the executive director of Apples with zucchinithe cooking school she founded six years ago.
She started the Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) cooking school to teach children and young adults how to prepare nutritious and affordable meals made with real foods.
While that long-ago cooking class gave Martz a solid knowledge base — and the bug of putting on a chef’s apron — it was a volunteer experience at the Santa Barbara County Food Bankcoupled with a challenge to her son’s class at Marymount of Santa Barbarawhich sparked the idea of creating the cooking school.
“My family and I were sorting through food at the food bank, and there were these mystery vegetables, and I thought if a family got this item in their delivery, they might not know what it is,” she remembers.
“They could look it up, but that’s assuming everyone has internet access.”
A to Z has plenty of recipes to draw from, even when flames aren’t allowed and electricity isn’t available. (From apples to zucchini (photo from the A to Z cooking school))
Around the same time, her son’s class faced a social justice/math challenge on how to feed a family on just $1.50 a day.
“It’s not easy to feed a family on that budget, and it became clear to me that you had to know how to cook to stretch those dollars,” Martz said.
Yet she also explained that parents on a budget are likely to work multiple jobs and don’t have time to cook. But their children, who are in school until 5 p.m., might as well.
“That’s who we want to reach,” she said.
Martz presented his idea to the Santa Barbara Foundation, which involved fiscal sponsorship. In March 2016, Apples to Zucchini taught its first lesson, as part of the after-school program of Brandon School in Golette.
“This program is for all kids,” Martz said. “There are so many families with beautiful kitchens who rarely turn on their stoves and call Uber eats.”
Today, A to Z reaches 120-140 people each week, offering 10 classes per week, summer camps and private party options.
The nonprofit now operates independently of the Santa Barbara Foundation as a 501(c)(3), with funding from program fees, grants, and philanthropic contributions. Money raised goes directly to support programs for low-income and at-risk youth, which are served by a variety of non-profit partnership programs.
The school’s philosophy is simple: cook nutritious meals together, eat together, and clean together.
Classes teach life skills, as children who learn to do the dishes also tend to do their own laundry and pick up their dogs. Turns out, doing household chores and sharing meals with your family has been proven to lead to better outcomes in other life settings.
A to Z Cooking also emphasizes the importance of good manners. So while students learn knife techniques and the differences between whipping, slicing, and sautéing, they’re also practicing the school’s “1-2-3” rules for eating together:
1) Towels on the knees.
2) Make sure everyone is served.
3) Thank the chef(s).
Phones aren’t allowed at the dining table, and Martz said his favorite thing is to just sit and listen to the kids go online.
For many, Apples to Zucchini was their only source of connection during the shutdowns during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We never closed our doors,” exclaimed Martz.
“For some children, we provided their only interaction with others during the height of the pandemic,” Martz said.
A to Z offered specially created pods as well as courses open to the public.
“The need was great, so we extended our hours just to allow the kids to play and socialize,” Martz said.
With fully equipped food carts, A to Z is able to offer cooking classes almost anywhere and has plenty of recipes to draw from, even when flames are not allowed and electricity is not available. available.
The cost of outfitting a cart is $1,000, which provides enough supplies for several classes of 12 children. Many recipes are plant-based and all animal products are locally and sustainably sourced.
Whether it’s teaching at an after-school program, a youth treatment center, or a backyard birthday party, A to Z hopes to fight hunger on the Central Coast by providing the tools kids need. need to prepare delicious, nutritious and affordable meals made with real food for Their families.
– Ann Pieramici is a contributing writer for Noozhawk. She can be reached at [email protected].