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Little Kitchen Academy in Bridgeport Village gives student chance to cook, learn about food.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Little chef Julian stirs vegetables he's preparing to roast in the oven at Bridgeport Village's Little Kitchen Academy.Carefully measuring their ingredients and paying attention to their adult instructors, a handful of aspiring young chefs recently busied themselves creating a dish that proved to be a step up from peanut butter and jelly.

After all the ingredients were carefully cut, mixed or measured, the 6- through 8-year-olds placed them in the oven and, voilà, out came a tasty cheese polenta with roasted vegetables.

The dishes were created at Little Kitchen Academy at Bridgeport Village, which recently became the first franchise location for the business in the United States.

"I was trying to find a way that I could combine cooking and baking and teaching about food and nutrition and sustainability and all of those things," said Michael Silver, who co-owns the new cooking school for kids.

The franchise was created by Brian and Felicity Curin in Montreal, Canada, and Silver was immediately impressed when he came upon it.

"My background is I'm sort of a serial entrepreneur, so I've created a lot of businesses," said Silver, a Gig Harbor, Washington, resident.

Semi-retired, Silver owns Audio High, a home and commercial automation business in California that does high-end audio and home theaters.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Michael Silver, who along with business partners, co-owns the Bridgeport Village location franchise of Little Kitchen Academy, said the cooking school not only teaches young chefs how to cook but gives them independence, self-confidence and other skills too.And he knows a thing or two about food, having attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and also baking school at the Seattle Culinary Academy.

Silver said he and his business partners decided Bridgeport Village would be a great location for Little Kitchen Academy.

"We looked at lots of locations in Washington and Oregon and this was just a great shopping center," Silver said. "They're supportive of what we are doing. They really wanted to have us here."

Silver is responsible for Little Kitchen Academy's Oregon and Washington franchise locations, starting with the pilot location at Bridgeport Village. He believes the Portland metro area could eventually end up with five or six locations.

He said he enjoys the reactions of children once they complete a class. One example came recently when a little girl was crying after her parents dropped her off for a class, something that quickly changed once the class started.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chef Jane checks her measuring cup for accuracy during a recent class at Little Kitchen Academy.

"I mean, within minutes she just transformed. By the end of class, she was just so excited," Silver said.

Another little girl left the class proclaiming, "I want to be a teacher here," Silver recalled.

Little Kitchen Academy follows the Montessori school of education, so it is geared towards treating kids as individuals, teaching them independence, self-confidence and a lot of soft skills in the process, Silver said.

Not only do young people learn about food, but they also pick up math and science skills as well through something as simple as using a measuring cup.

In addition, the younger cooks all create their food masterpieces using wooden knifes, which all have sharp edges but aren't as dangerous as a traditional stainless steel knife.

Still, the students are equipped with adult mixers and other electric products that make cooking easier.

"They learn how to use all the real stuff like a real kitchen," Silver said.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - An instructor shows students how what fresh herbs to place in their dishes.

Each class is limited to 10 students with three instructors on-duty at all times, something that allows students to receive lots of attention, Silver said.

In addition, the instructors are all first aid- and CPR-trained through American Red Cross courses, and they have food safety certifications.

"The most important thing for us is that the kids are safe, and the next most important thing for us is that they have a really good experience," Silver said.

When students finish their recipes, they bring them home to their families at the end of the day, Silver said. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Elena washes her hands during a class at Bridgeport Villages Little Kitchen Academy.

"We have a different recipe every time. We never repeat recipes," Silver said. "So, we have hundreds of recipes that we've created specifically for our classes."

Because of concern with food safety and varying religious requirements for some kids' diets, Little Kitchen Academy doesn't use meat in cooking. Because of possible allergic reactions, recipes are nut-free as well.

Silver said a portion of his profits from Little Kitchen Academy go into his Silver Linings nonprofit, which he began 25 years ago. Silver Linings runs a program called Chef's Village, which will soon have its own website at chefsvillage.org. That website will include an engaging way for young people to learn about cooking, baking, the secrets of chocolate, nutrition, sustainability and more.

"Silver Linings, in turn, we give scholarships to kids to attend the Kitchen Academy classes so disadvantaged kids can go for free," said Silver.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Students watch as Chef Wheezy carefully pulls a tray-full of roasted vegetables out of the oven during class at Little Kitchen Academy at Bridgeport Village.


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