“Food brings people closer together,” it reads. “We’re on a mission to create a more compassionate generation of eaters by showing grownups and children alike how fun food adventures can be and how this big, flavorful world is smaller than it may seem.” Yes! This is what we need more of, I thought to myself. We have fruit and vegetable gardens at schools helping kids learn about where their food comes from and to appreciate the flavor of freshly picked produce. Now here’s a fun a way to help kids learn about different lands and cultures through food.
Inside the box was Kalamata’s Kitchen, the first book for kids in a series featuring Kalamata, a plucky little girl who invites real chefs to become her “Taste Buds” along with her alligator pal, Al Dente. With memories sparked by comforting aromas coming from the kitchen, they embark on culinary adventures and learn about different cultures and traditions through food, something we need now more than ever.
The great Anthony Bourdain helped us learn more about different cultures through his travels. But he also showed us we don’t have to go to faraway places like Vietnam, Venezuela or Senegal to connect to the people of another land. We can do so by experiencing their food in our own towns and cities. He encouraged us to explore the everyday food made by people all over the world and brought what for some seemed “other” and even a bit anxiety-provoking much closer to home. He made those dishes more familiar and comfortable so that the next time we were in line at a food truck or in a restaurant offering bibimbap or bao or bacalhau, we’d say “I’ll try that!” with a sense of adventure and gusto.
Of course, when you introduce these new culinary and cultural ideas to kids, making it part of their lives right away, it’s so much easier.
That’s one of the premises behind Kalamata’s Kitchen, a Seacoast New Hampshire and Maine company made up of creative people who say “Life is full of flavor” and “... As we grow, our tastes expand along with our worldview.”
We’re shown that new world of tastes by Kalamata, a charming young girl who goes on adventures in beautifully illustrated and entertainingly written books. Kalamata’s even a bit of a punster. In the first book, she learns all about guava, meringue and more with Portland, Maine chef Ilma Lopez through a visit to the chef’s Venezuelan abuelita (little grandmother).
Each book in the series will feature a real chef from a real city, sharing their food memories sparked by a wonderful kitchen aroma. The next in the series will be Kalamata’s Orchard Adventure featuring chef Trevett Hooper of Legume, Butterjoint, and Pie for Breakfast in Pittsburgh. In it, Kalamata and Trevett explore an apple orchard built around the theme of the smells of home.
With those illustrations by artist and muralist Jo Edwards and words by Sarah Thomas, a sommelier at Le Bernardin in New York City, Kalamata and her Taste Buds bring parents and kids into the kitchen, to the table and into the world of many cultures. There are recipes, too, and a portion of sales from the book goes to a charity chosen by each featured chef.
But the Kalamata Kitchen concept is more than the book. Kalamata Kitchen “Big Cheese” Derek Wallace and team are spreading the love to restaurants and supermarkets, too. “Supermarkets can be toy stores. Kitchens can be playgrounds. Restaurants can be theaters. And everyone is welcome at our table,” they say.
As part of the Kalamata program, local restaurants can get the Kalamata Kitchen seal of approval and so far the company includes restaurants in Portland, Maine and Portsmouth as well as nearby Kittery, Maine in their Taste Bud Travel Guide, eateries that follow criteria that make them particularly kid-friendly and can offer food adventures. Each restaurant gets stickers, books and membership cards to hand out as well as a fun vegetable matching game for kids to play while dining. None of the restaurants on their list “dumb down” the dining out experience for kids, but each listing points out why Kalamata likes it and the restaurant’s family-friendly features.
All of the restaurants on their Portsmouth and Kittery list are places I went to regularly with no kid along at all and they fit right into the philosophy behind Kalamata’s Kitchen. They’ll expand the listings to Pittsburgh, Austin, D.C., Seattle and many more great food towns.
There’s swag, too. You can buy a kid-sized apron, kitchen tools, the matching game and stickers as single items or multiple item gift packs.
The book is a wonderful way to explore new ingredients and dishes with your kids and encourage them to bring that sense of adventure when you’re in the supermarket picking up a papaya, at the farmers’ market sampling a new variety of tomato, or at a restaurant discovering spicy food. At home, cooking as a family, it will get them interested in cooking up a dish you’ve never tried through the featured chef’s recipe, or one sparked by a memory of a grandmother’s kitchen or grandfather’s larder full of pickles, just like Kalamata does.
“Bite after bite, her appetite for exploration is growing. She is learning that each flavor can stand alone, but the magic happens when they come together,” according to a statement about the product. “She is learning that ingredients that come from far away can bring people closer. And she is learning that creativity in the kitchen can create compassion outside of it.”
Sign up for their email list and get a free Taste Bud membership card where you’ll find a pledge, “I promise to keep my mind open and my fork ready, to try each new food at least two times and share what’s on my plate when someone doesn’t have enough.” I have my membership card at the ready. Visit www.kalamataskitchen.com.