Cooking can be fun

May 18, 2019

VALPARAISO — “Keep your elbows out like a chicken.” Gina Zieniewicz, owner/chef/instructor of Nana Clara’s Kitchen gave fifth-grader Morrigan Worlds this simple, helpful tip as she cracked eggs for her crunchy egg cup.

Worlds was one of nine Junior Girls Scouts from Coolspring Elementary School’s Troop 00443 to recently attend a cooking class at the Valparaiso business (nanaclaras.com) to earn a Simple Meals badge. They also created grilled chicken quesadillas and berry dessert cups.

“I loved the girls’ cooking experience,” said Troop Leader Kim Sydow. “They were all so excited to crack eggs and having such a variety of foods to cook with was excellent. Gina seamlessly taught them how to chop the food the correct way, and the dos and don’ts of the kitchen. Then, getting to taste the food once the class was over completed the amazing evening.”

It was just one of the classes, camps, challenges and parties available at Nana Clara’s. On one Saturday each month, Zieniewicz offers Kids Baking Classes for ages 6-10 and 11-15. Tasty titles include Patriotic Pastries for July, Lunchbox Treats for August and A Sweet Feast for November. The new Kid’s Intermediate Baking Classes cater to more advanced bakers ages 10-15.

Kids Cooking Camps are offered summer, fall and winter, and are broken down into age groups from 4 to high school.

“Our Kids Cooking Camps are a six-week course with a comprehensive curriculum, Zieniewicz said. “You can find single kids cooking classes or cooking demonstrations, but there is no other cooking program for kids like ours in all of Northwest Indiana.”

Worlds’ mother, Nikki Stransky, said, “The cooking class was a great experience for the girls. The women were wonderful – very patient and made sure everyone was on task understanding complete instructions before moving onto the next step. Their style and the way they taught the girls about cooking was fun! They really enjoyed themselves and they got into the idea of learning how to cook.”

For adults (and kids as young as eight), Nana Clara’s Kitchen offers seven different parties/challenges including a Decorating Party, Cooking or Baking Party, Snack Attack, Cupcake Challenge, Cake Challenge or Food Fight. There are also custom events such as a Cake Decorating Party, and even a Harry Potter Cooking Class with guests making foods from the books and movies in addition to added “Potter Fun.” For younger kids, there’s A Little Chef’s Pizza Party.

“I customize all of my groups depending on if they are visiting for a group outing (for fun) or to earn a badge. I work closely with the group leader and ask those questions. If it is for a badge, I make sure that I cover the points that need to be covered within the one visit. I then choose the menu items based on the requirements that need to be met to earn the badge,” Zieniewicz said.

For the Simple Meals badge, the Junior Scouts were required to make a breakfast egg dish, tour a kitchen and learn general cooking safety, among other tasks.

Scout Leader Amy Williams was equally impressed three years ago when her Troop 00012 girls experienced the class.

“I really thought it was a positive experience for the girls. I feel like they gained quite a bit of confidence trying to prepare food for themselves. The recipes she gave – the girls talk about how they still make them now,” Williams said.

Zieniewicz, a Winfield/Crown Point resident, said her interest in the culinary field began in high school and she went on to work for delis and restaurants before earning a culinary degree. She’s also completed schooling to become a ServSafe (food handler) Instructor and Proctor.

She, her sister Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano, together with their sister Terrie Johnson (who passed away eight months ago), ran the business together. They named it after their 90-year-old mother, who still helps out with recipe ideas and packaging.

“My sisters and I started the business out of a developed ‘need.’ We took our mother’s recipe for her biscotti (an Italian cookie) and developed four flavors from her original recipe. We made them in my kitchen and sold them at Farmer’s Markets around Northwest Indiana for four years,” Zieniewicz said.

Unable to find a commercial kitchen in Northwest Indiana, the sisters talked to others at the Farmer Markets, who were interested in home-based businesses.

“We provide a place to run a legal food business and offer an affordable option to opening your own brick and mortar, and we help with the ins and outs of a start-up food business,” Zieniewicz said. “I also have a passion for this industry and the food laws. I know them well so I can help and advise each new business that works out of Nana Clare’s.”

And she said she loves working with kids. “Cooking is a life skill. Schools have forgotten that. Kids need to at least learn the basics.”

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