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Kitchen Little Cooking School Trains New Generation of Foodies

By Amy Zimmer | September 4, 2012 6:34am

MANHATTAN — When the Kitchen Little Cooking School opens on the Upper East Side this month, its founder hopes it will spawn a whole new generation of foodies.

After a decade-long stint in Los Angeles working in television and music, Leah Landon returned to her native city of New York three years ago — and changed careers. She made a name for herself as a health-focused chef for Upper East Side families and became a hit with many mothers in the private school circuit. 

“I believe healthy cooking starts at home,” said Landon, the creator and co-owner of the cooking school which is based at Gymtime, on York Avenue between 80th and 81st streets. “Moms here specifically don’t like to leave the community. I thought, I can just bring them a little bit of what I learned Downtown and from other parts of the city.”

Landon — who studied at the Natural Gourmet School on West 21st Street and at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego — became a chef for families by chance. 

One day, the spin instructor and dedicated yoga practitioner, was at a gym when a woman asked her secret for healthy living.

She was hired to cook for a woman with six kids and, through word-of-mouth, Landon became in demand. She employed a staff, branching out into teaching cooking workshops and starting a catering company.

“I worked in entertainment for 10 years and kind of lost myself,” Landon said. “I came back to New York and focused on myself and my body. My life changed so much after I changed the food in my life.

“My hobbies became my living,” she added. “I became an accidental catering phenomenon on the Upper East Side.”

At Kitchen Little, chef educators Ashley Lonsdale, who studied at the French Culinary Institute, and Sarah Pachelli, who worked at the famed Blue Hill restaurant and was sous chef for Columbia University's president, will lead hands-on classes for kids ages 2 to 7, as well as for teens and also parents.

The vegetarian, nut-free recipes will teach kids “cooking can be creative and that the kitchen can be an accessible place for artistic expression,” according to the brochure.

Gymtime — which bills itself as an “holistic environment" for 6-month-olds to 12-year-olds and includes two preschools, plus afterschool programs in the arts, gymnastics, karate and other sports — did have cooking classes before, Landon noted.

But, she said, “This is a completely different program.”

Before the school had cookie baking classes, which may not have had the healthiest focus.

“I want to eliminate processed foods, processed sugars and processed flour,” Landon said.

Kitchen Little will offer a 16-week course starting Sept. 5 highlighting a “secret” ingredient incorporated into a three course meal (including dessert), such as chickpeas, quinoa, kale, Greek yogurt and sweet potato.

The classes cost $740, according to Gymtime's Share blog.

One-day workshops will include an afternoon of non-butter baked cookies, cupcakes and cakes with tofu frosting and something called “team girls,” a class for teens and tweens on how to “feel awesome at the gym” and “repair muscles with the most beneficial protein, carbs and fats.”

Landon has also created a program called “Moms in the Kitchen” with such classes as “After-School Snacks” which will teach parents to make their own granola bars so they can stop buying processed ones, and “Beyond Brown Rice,” exploring grain versatility.

Half of the school's 12 classes already sold out through word-of-mouth, Landon said.

“We want to be sort of a lifestyle hangout for children and their moms and families,” Landon said. “When it comes to eating well and for food and health we want to be the place to go.”