My name is Gino Campagna. I'm Italian (from Parma, the food capital of Europe) but I've been living in LA for the last 20 years.
I worked with children all my life and in the last 15 years I specialized in cooking with children and families.
They call me Chef Gino. I make cooking fun and engaging. Not every kid out there will become a professional chef but every one will have to learn how to feed themselves. My approach is simple, I go to the core of a recipe and I let the kids improvise and have fun with it. Once you learn that eggs and flour are the only ingredients in fresh pasta, you're set for a lifetime of homemade tagliatelle.
I know, pasta may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about healthy food (nothing wrong with pasta in small portions) but what I'm trying to say is that I teach a healthy approach to food and food preparation, one that promotes fresh ingredients and homemade cooking. I love cooking with kids: I host an internet show, live events, parties, classes. I volunteer for Michelle Obama's program Chefs Move To School and for the Garden School Foundation who put a vegetable plot in a Hollywood elementary school where I go and cook with the students using produce they grow themselves.
I also recently joined Jamie Oliver's food Revolution and he put me in charge of organizing the Southern California's chefs who wants to get involved in the fight against bad food.
Because of all of my involvements, I sit in a lot of meetings where grown ups talk about kids and food and I hear a lot about obesity, about how bad food will lead our children to premature death and so forth.
I know, I know, they are right and it's all true and they did educate Americans in the last decades about the dangers of smoking, for examples, by scaring them off cigarettes; but when we talk about our children I cringe a little when we think that scare tactics are the way to go. In my experience Children learn best when engaged in a positive environment. We all do. If we don't enjoy eating healthier and exercising then they are not going to be lifestyle choices but chores we can't wait to get out of.
We need to put FUN in the familiar equation good food + Exercise = long life. I believe that what we need is what I call a cultural switch in America. I always make this example: when I came to the States 20 years ago it was hard to find a decent cappuccino or espresso outside of an Italian restaurant and any search in the local supermarket for a nice loaf of bread, a baguette, a filone, would prove fruitless. Here we are 20 years later getting our lattes at the gas station and eating our ciabatta panini at the drive thru. We didn't do it by scaring people into discovering exotic coffees and fancy breads, we did it by marketing to the American people different products, exposing the American taste buds to new flavors, promoting curiosity.
Can't we do the same for our kids? Can't we free them from the perpetual menu of hot dogs and fries, peanut butter sandwiches and slice of pepperoni pizzas? Can't we finally let them eat, from an early age, veggies and cheeses and fresh fruit and all the good things?
Let them taste, smell, touch colorful ingredients, tasty delicacies? Can't we all start gathering again in the kitchen, prepare fresh food together, sit around the dining table, talk, laugh, eat and be merry? Can we? I know, I know, we live in a economic depression (believe me I know: working with kids it's not exactly the best way to pay the mortgage...) and people are looking at the bottom line: and junk food is cheap.
Yet, learning how to cook regularly using fresh ingredients available in every market it's not that more expensive... and it's fun. Ah! Fun! So please let your children wash lettuce, let them knead a homemade whole wheat pizza dough, help them prepare a fresh tomato pasta sauce, fun, fun Fun. If you make it together chances are you and them will eat it We do need to demonize bad food but let's not forget to celebrate good, fresh healthy food: Hey! It's good for you!