After 15 years in logistics, Denise K. Livotti decided to start her own business in a completely different field.
“I had health issues and my daughter was facing health issues so I just thought you know what there needs to be a program out there pushing healthy food eating for kids at a young age,” she says. “Just to get kids back into the kitchen discovering the value and joy of healthy nutritional cooking.”
In January 2011 she developed the concept for an educational cooking school for children two-and-a-half to 17 years old and by August had opened the doors to Petits Chefs Academy.
Although her career to that point wasn’t food focused, she says she always loved cooking.
“Growing up, my mentors were my two grandmothers,” she says. “One was very, very skilled in the garden and I’ve taken after her with my green thumb and my other grandmother was an avid cook.”
Along with their certified chefs, Livotti says they develop, test and modify recipes to make them healthier before teaching kids how to cook through workshops, camps, after school programs, birthday parties and weekly cooking sessions, which are divided by age. She also adds physical activity to the mix and takes advantage of her language skills to offer French programming.
“I wanted to ensure that we also incorporate our second language into our studies and for those schools in the GTA who are French to have the opportunity to come to our cooking academy for field trips or our outreach programs and we can offer French-based cooking classes,” she says.
After reviewing their Facebook page recently she says she realized just how much they’ve accomplished since opening and all the great experiences they’ve had to date.
“It has kind of been such a whirlwind,” she says. “It’s what fuels me, it’s my passion. It’s what I love to do.”
Livotti says being able to work with kids is the best part of her job as they bring a different perspective than adults do and are positive about life. One of the students, she says, an 11-year-old junior chef on the brink of joining the senior program also started posting his own YouTube videos doing cooking demonstrations from the recipes they learned in class, which she also posts to their Facebook page.
She says the main reason she decided to open Petits Chefs Academy in Vaughan was because it’s her home.
“The whole premise was to be able to do a viable business and also bring up a family at the same time,” she says. “So my kids are young and I wanted to be close for them.”
However, her goal is to expand slowly and have more locations across the GTA, the province and the country. She also hopes people understand the value of teaching kids about healthy nutritious-based foods so they can pay it forward for the next generation.
“It’s an education so the whole thing is if we get them young they’ll take this with them for their life,” she says. “We always say you may not do dance or hockey for all of your life but you’ll need to know how to nourish your body healthily and wisely for the rest of your life.”