Ann Arbor cooking classes expand to college students

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 3:31pm

When Ann Arbor resident Lilian Anderson set out to find cooking classes for her daughter to enroll in, she said she was shocked by the lack of options. In response, Anderson chose to teach classes to a few kids in her own kitchen — a decision that soon resulted in a growing business called Sprouting Chefs, which was launced in May 2016.

Now, due to high demand, Anderson plans on teaching more classes on the University of Michigan’s campus. She has already visited Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall and taught a class there for sophomores planning to move off campus the next year. As part of Sprouting Chefs, Anderson offers hands-on classes for children 8-years-old and up. She also teaches teenagers in some of the more advanced classes, focusing on knife skills and other culinary techniques.

“For me, it’s always been about food, and for me, if you’re cooking from scratch, it’s always nutritious; that’s the best medicine for a healthy life and enjoyable life,” she said.

Anderson’s early motivations were to work in the culinary world; she worked in a variety of Michigan restaurants until she decided that her interests lay elsewhere. She went back to school for nutrition, and she eventually used this knowledge and her experience in cooking to kick-start her business.

Classes at Sprouting Chefs are usually three hours long and are centered on a specific theme. This theme can be ethnic, focused on one particular ingredient or can involve the preparation of a three-course meal. Cooking dominates the first two and a half hours of the class, whereas eating the meal together occurs in the remaining time.

“The social component of cooking is so important,” Anderson said. “That’s why I emphasize at the end we spend the last time eating together.”

Regarding the challenges of starting a new business, Anderson says she’s been lucky there haven’t been many problems. She notes the Ann Arbor community has been helpful, not only with its strong culture supporting locally grown food, but in the resources provided by The Michigan Small Business Development Center in the greater Washtenaw region.

“I keep on saying it was the right time and place, the kids are hungry to learn and they’re watching all of these cooking shows,” she said. “Kids are telling their parents ‘this is what I’m looking for and this is what I want.’”

LSA sophomore Noah Featherman said classes like the ones in Sprouting Chefs would be helpful in teaching him how to cook and prepare ingredients, something he has little experience with.

“Right now my cooking skills are minimal; I can make mac and cheese but sometimes the pot will boil over and my sister has to help me,” he said. “I’m living here in the summer, so I’m living on my own and need to know how to cook.”

Business senior Christina Chang said she grew up in a family where her parents cooked every meal for her and her siblings while they were growing up, and understands the value of the program.

“I started learning how to cook at a fairly young age, probably late elementary school, because I wanted to know how to make some of my favorite dishes,” Chang wrote in an email interview. “My favorite part about cooking is having a delicious final product at the end that you know you made.”

Anderson runs Sprouting Chefs as a part-time business, and said she’ll need more help to expand it in the future if demand is high. 

“Now being surrounded by so much processed food, it’s not the same as cooking your own,” she said. “To me, it’s such a fundamental step in a healthy lifestyle.”