Lifestyle & Culture

Little Kitchen Academy: Combining Montessori Methods & Food to Empower Kids

Global Shakers chatted to Felicity & Brian Curin to discover how they are globalising their mission of empowering kids to create a healthier world.

25.03.2020 | by Kezia Parkins
A happy Little Kitchen chef
A happy Little Kitchen chef

Utilising Montessori teaching methods and encouraging joy and mindfulness, Little Kitchen Academy (LKA) is creating an army of responsible little humans.

Set up by power couple Brian and Felicity Curin in 2019, along with long-time friend Praveen Varshney, LKA is the first of its kind Montessori-inspired cooking school for kids ages 3 to teen. Their unique year-round programme not only teaches kids confidence, independence and practical life skills they will need for adulthood, but also how to refine their palettes and individual tastes.

Since launching the flagship location last summer, LKA has announced their global expansion plans — with their first single-unit franchise deal and a multi-unit franchise deal, a slate of strategic global brand partners, including BIRKENSTOCK, partnered with celebrity Iron Chef Cat Cora and had a shout-out on The Ellen Show. There’s no doubt that Little Kitchen Academy is in position for epic growth.

When Global Shakers asked the couple their secret to working so successfully together, Felicity said: “I’ll take this one if you don’t mind Brian?”

Brian: “Go ahead.”

“Stay in your Lane!,” she asserted from a masala spice splattered kitchen at their flagship location in Vancouver, Canada. The kids had been making curry…

Felicity is a successful and passionate chef for her ninja ability to get even the fussiest kids to try new foods.

Brian, a serial entrepreneur with a golden touch when it comes to taking companies global, has founded, led and transformed several Inc. 500|5000 companies. 

The duo met in Arizona back in their 20s, when Brian was at the helm of branding and marketing a cigar company and taking it public and Felicity was running a Canadian restaurant’s first US branch.

“I fell in love with the food and I fell in love with her,” said Brian wistfully.

Felicity describes Brian as “a big dreamer.” Brian himself admits, “if I see something I love, I get very excited and passionate and want the world to know about it.”

His next big venture was ice cream parlour chain, Cold Stone Creamery. 

“Felicity dragged me into a Cold Stone one night. I fell in love with it and became part of the team that grew it to over 1000 locations,” explained Brian with an heir of enthused nonchalance — if that is even possible? 

Later, deciding to “build a dream together,” the newlyweds uprooted their lives from the deserts of Arizona to the Virgin Islands and became the master franchisee for Cold Stone in the Caribbean.

When Felicity fell pregnant with twin girls, they moved back to the mainland US, but life for the ambitious duo didn’t slow down.

Felicity had a third daughter and Brian was branding and scaling what became the #1 fast-casual restaurant group in North America and globally known for such brands as Moe’s Southwest Grill, Planet Smoothie, and Shane’s Rib Shack.

Brian Curin, Felicity Curin

After Felicity’s mother passed away the young family moved to her hometown of Vancouver where Brian discovered Flip Flop Shops and swiftly turned it into a global retail chain, INC. 500 Company, and ICSC Hot Concept. 

 

They seemed unstoppable…

 

Too much, too fast?

At the age of 38, Brian had to have life-saving emergency heart surgery.

Believing that chronic stress was the root cause of his heart disease, he says; “It was a huge wake-up call for how fast our lives were and that I needed to take better care of myself.” 

Felicity jumped in and started making lifestyle changes. 

“Growing up in the Midwest it was very meat and potatoes,” laughed Brian. Laughing is now something he makes a point of doing every day.

“Felicity grew up here in Vancouver where people are more health-conscious. She opened my eyes to better ways to eat and taught me to love healthy food.”

Felicity had been talking about creating a child-centred cooking concept for years and Brian’s close call made the couple realise how important it was and what a legacy it would be their girls.

Felicity went back to school while taking care of Brian and the kids to get a masters in Montessori teaching and Brian did what he does best and set the wheels of a global franchising strategy in motion.

“Everyone fell in love with the idea.”

Right away their summer sessions sold out with 150 students on the waiting list.

 

Perfect Partnerships

Aside from their important concept and franchisable model, the couple thank their “super talented” investor group and advisory board for LKA’s quick success. 

Named partners include BIRKENSTOCK, ChopValue, Emeco, ChefWorks, AeroGarden and Welcome Industries.

But, perhaps the most exciting is Cat Cora, the first-ever female Iron Chef as their brand ambassador, honorary head of recipe development, and advisory board member.

Cat Cora, the world’s first female Iron Chef and member of the LKA family.

Brian was discussing ideas with David Kahan, CEO of BIRKENSTOCK Americas about how to scale and get LKA’s message out to the world. A celebrity chef was the obvious answer, but it was imperative to the couple that it be the right person and a genuine partnership.

When David suggested Cat Cora, Brian’s response was, “she’s perfect, but we’ll never get her.” 

The CEO happened to know the chef personally and introduced them. 

“I’m all about family, food and love,” said the Iron Chef.

“So, when Felicity shared her vision and presented the opportunity for me to be part of this venture, it made perfect sense. The concept mirrors my vision for my own children’s future with food. I wanted to collaborate to make this our legacy together. It’s such a needed concept with a strong social mission. Our core values are so aligned, and I know our collective passion, experience and commitment will make this idea a global success. I’m thrilled to be a partner, a brand ambassador, and a huge fan.”

Gwen Curin & Iron Chef Cat Cora

Felicity and Cat bonded as two women who had to fight to make it in the male-dominated culinary industry. 

“She’s such a powerhouse,” said Felicity in admiration.  

“Back in my culinary training, I was told I was ‘too pretty’ to work in a kitchen. That made me so angry, but this was the fuel to push myself even further.”

For the Curin’s three daughters who have started working at the academy, things will likely be a lot different what with all of the strong female chefs around to support them.

 

“Changing Lives from Scratch” — anything but a tagline

Brian says that the concept of LKA is just a way of life for Felicity, “It’s always been happening.”

He recalls when their daughters were younger and would have playdates: “Felicity would have all the kids getting their hands’ dirty in the kitchen and picking fresh veg and herbs from the garden.” 

Together, they would make firm favourites like pizza… but from scratch.

“Parents would later call and ask for the dinner recipe- but the (not-so-secret) ingredient was that the kids were part of the process. It wasn’t about WHAT was made- it was about HOW it was made.” said Brian. “For Felicity, there is no other way, but I see it as a gift that needs to be shared with the world.”

By getting the kids to make the dough, roll it out, watch it rise and make decisions to their own tastes, Felicity was able to get her little guests to eat the food that their parents could not.

Little Kitchen Academy, Felicity Curin

Felicity and a young chef picking herbs from the LKA live food wall.

 Her power to get the fussiest kids to try new foods comes not from being sneaky and tricking them, but from allowing them to taste, make informed choices, teaching them where their food comes from and involving them in a pure passion that rubs off on anyone around her.

A few of the many reasons why she and Montessori make a perfect match… 

 

The Montessori Way

The Montessori Method of Education is a child-centred approach that sees children as the hungry vessels for learning that they truly are.

By initiating learning in a supportive environment, it aims to develop children physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. You may have heard the phrase; “it’s for the whole child.”

Despite being based on scientific observations of children, the word “Montessori” has become steeped in stigma and many disregards it as being “hippy-dippy” or a child-led recipe for disaster.

Solely aware of the all too common view above, Felicity was only converted after finding out her youngest daughter had spent 3 hours washing windows at school. 

Furious, she marched in to get an explanation from the Montessori guide, brought in to teach the curriculum for preschoolers, but after a good chat was soon calmed.  

“She explained that much more is going on than just washing windows,” said Felicity.

“I realised that it’s not about cleaning the windows and I should be focused on the fact that she’s building her motor skills, working on her muscles and concentration and working out whatever is going on in her little mind.” 

The teacher described their daughter as very peaceful during the whole process and said that when a child does something that gives them peace and joy, they can do it tirelessly, effortlessly, forever. 

“I was fascinated by this pedagogy. It’s such a natural and obvious approach that places emphasis on how you learn and not what you learn and can be applied to any subject.”

I feel that the current traditional curriculum taught in many schools has been the same since the industrial revolution and it’s just so out of touch. Kids are born learners and can achieve incredible things if we allow them to develop their interests and become who they were born to be.”

Pictured Left: Little Londyn being helped by LKA founder, Felicity Curin. Pictured Right: Cute moments in the kitchen
Images courtesy of aliciawatersblog.com.

LKA classes are taught in 4 age groups — 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 and 13+. Mixed-age classrooms are typical for Montessori style teaching and Felicity says it encourages compassion in older kids and accelerates learning in the younger ones.

A young chef hard at work.

“The 3-year-olds are surprisingly a lot tidier than the teens,” laughed Felicity when we asked about the biggest differences in teaching the age groups. “And a lot more adventurous with trying new things,” she added.

“The most important difference, though, is that 15-year-olds need the skills LKA teaches urgently. They need the most help right now. They will be off to college soon and need to learn about nutrition, that a packet of ramen will not sustain them and ordering take out every night could lead to health problems and lighter wallets.”

Little Kitchen Academy

Teens learning practical life-skills. 

As well as teaching kids about nutrition and cooking, LKA’s curriculum is peppered with lots of other important lessons.

The kids all sit together and eat the food they prepared on a ChopValue table made of over 33,000 recycled chopsticks and Emeco chairs made of recycled pop bottles. Their AeroGarden live food wall helps educate the kids about where food comes from and how long it takes to produce. 

“A big part of our ethos is teaching sustainability and minimising waste. Touches like this excite the students and open up vital conversations,” says Brian.

Pictured left: ChopValue Table. Pictured Right, Little Londyn getting her Birkenstocks

After they slip on their chef’s coats and personal pair of Birkenstocks and make their way to their named and designated kitchen station, they first pass the cheeky message written across the floor that says “Chefs Only.” 

“They love seeing their names written above their station. The personalisation helps hold them accountable for the space and equipment and to understand that their job is serious business. It’s teaching them about hard work and to take pride in what they do.”

It’s for this reason that Felicity says she will never hire out LKA for kids’ birthday parties — despite the many requests from parents.

“We are teaching necessary life-skills. While I’m always flattered by these requests, I politely explain that we are not willing to dilute this important work.”

 

Little Kitchen Academy Poised for Global Growth

Hot on the heels of the January announcement of their first franchise location in West Vancouver, LKA revealed their first multi-unit franchise deal for two locations in South Surrey/White Rock & Kelowna, British Columbia in 2020 and their slate of global strategic brand partners.

“We are planning global expansion,” affirmed Brian. Starting with the US, and with his sights set on the UK, China, India, and the Middle East, Brian plans to do what he has proven times over — that if he loves something, he will make sure the world knows about it. And what could be more loved than the family business that he helped his wife build?

“Little Kitchen Academy has become a source of great joy for our family. Having our daughters working with us is the ultimate reward,” says Brian. “and seeing Felicity shine, doing what she was born to do – changing lives from scratch” he added.

Brian says that anyone interested in becoming a master franchisee, development partner or just wanting to learn more, should go here.

 

About Little Kitchen Academy
Little Kitchen Academy (LKA) is the first-of-its-kind, Montessori-inspired cooking academy for kids ages three through teen, focused on providing a safe, inspiring, and empowering space for children to identify, develop and refine their senses. Based in Vancouver, Canada, the global franchise concept was co-founded by proven global brand and franchise expert and serial entrepreneur Brian Curin, his wife, Montessori-trained, culinary expert and visionary Felicity Curin, and social impact investor and entrepreneur Praveen Varshney, on the belief that by empowering children with practical life skills and knowledge in a positive and joyful environment, they and their company will affect positive lifestyle changes that result in a healthier world. True to its mission, LKA lives to create a more educated, able and healthy society through mindful, healthy eating choices, and is committed to changing lives, from scratch to consumption. LKA has forged strategic partnerships with Iron Chef Cat Cora, AeroGrow, BIRKENSTOCK, ChefWorks, ChopValue, Emeco and Welcome Industries. Little Kitchen Academy’s flagship venue is located at 3744 West 10th Avenue in Vancouver, BC. Three franchised locations will open in Canada later this year. For a taste of Little Kitchen Academy, visit https://littlekitchenacademy.com/ or join its communities on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and TikTok.

 

Related Shakers

Brian Curin

Little Kitchen…

Felicity Curin

Little Kitchen…

Felix Böck

ChopValue

Cat Cora

Related Shakers