Welcome to the nomadic food journey of Lydia Gwin. Lydia is the creator of Gwin's Tiny Kitchen, a culinary instructor at Kitchen Conservatory, Project Manager at Nine PBS, and co-host of the local podcast Chew in the Lou. This is Lydia’s story about how she uses food to connect kids, communities, and cultures.
Early exposure to food
Throughout each of my travels across the country and around the world, I received the gift of experiencing moments of connecting cultures through food. My father was in the military and we lived on Indian reservations across the United States. We moved frequently, but Minnesota was the one constant place I spent time growing up. My parents are from there, and my grandparents own a 150-year-old farmstead close to the Canadian border. My grandmother would start her days at 5:00 a.m. making breakfast for the farmhands. That's where I learned to bake those hearty church cookbook types of recipes.
French immersion camp
Learning a foreign language was very important to my dad. He wanted my sisters and me to go to school in Switzerland to be immersed in French culture. My mom wasn't comfortable sending us that far away, so we spent two weeks every summer in Minnesota at Concordia Language Village, a language immersion camp run through Concordia College. I attended the French immersion camp for eight years. It was total immersion. Our parents would drop us off at the gate and security searched our bags. They would confiscate anything American or English - books, CDs, gum, Doritos. Once we passed through the gates everyone spoke French. Everything we ate or cooked was authentically French. At lunch, there were giant jars of Dijon mustard, olive oil, and vinegar on the tables. We had to make our vinaigrette every day.
Culinary world experience
When I was 16, I backpacked through Canada with a friend I met at summer camp. After that, I backpacked Europe and spent a month in Africa. The protein of choice in Africa is goat. Goat brain tastes like scrambled eggs with seasoning.
Gwin's Tiny Kitchen
My kids, ten-year-old Miles and seven-year-old Piper, love being in the kitchen with me. During quarantine, my daughter suggested we create a video of us making a fruit salad. We had fun with that, and created another video of my kids using Mason jars to make butter out of heavy whipping cream. My kids loved creating the videos, so I created Gwin's Tiny Kitchen, a Facebook page where parents and kids could learn about food and culture from around the globe. My goal was to give families meaningful ways to engage with their kids and with each other through food.
Kitchen Conservatory cooking classes
I walked into the Kitchen Conservatory to buy a tortilla press for an upcoming class I was teaching, and I struck up a conversation with the owner. He offered me the opportunity to teach a few classes, and now I teach three to five classes a week. My classes are designed for anyone and everyone interested in cooking and range from beginner to advanced. Some of my classes have fun themes based on the popular television shows "Schitt's Creek" and "Ted Lasso." I also teach Heir and a Parent kid’s classes at Kitchen Conservatory with my kids. I teach the kids how to do everything from start to finish - including cleaning up.
Chew in the Lou
Chew in the Lou is the brainchild of Joe Prosperi, Director of Digital Strategy at Nine PBS. Our kids go to school together and because he is a foodie, our conversations are all food related. Over the last two years, I've helped Joe add content to the Chew in the Lou Facebook page and worked with him on bringing in well-known chefs for Facebook events. Now, as the Project Manager at Nine Network, I'm the food curator for Chew in the Lou’s Facebook page, Instagram and Tik Tok accounts, website, as well as a co-host with Joe in the new Chew in the Lou podcast. It's such an honor to work alongside Joe.
Customized cooking classes
I'm excited about working with a local high school to teach hearing-impaired kids how to read recipes, cook, and shop on a budget. Over the summer, I taught Farm to Fork classes at the Kirkwood Farmers Market. I think it's essential to support local farmers and markets by exploring what to cook based on what’s in season. I really loved teaching the virtual classes over the winter to Girl Scouts Troops, Parents as Teachers, and a local university to really encourage all ages to connect through cooking. The greatest joy of teaching is seeing the newfound confidence gained at the end.
Savoring the possibilities
I'd like to bottle up what I teach in my classes and offer that to a larger audience. I'd eventually love to host a cooking show. Many things are missed or lost in translation on current cooking shows. I like to teach people how to cook and the why and what of cooking. I've been called the female version of Alton Brown because I'm passionate about the science of food. For instance, there are considerable differences in types of salt. Knowing how to add salt at the beginning of the cooking process rather than at the end will change how you cook. It will change your relationship with food. It will change your life.
Food for the masses
I love creating savory sauces, jams, and jellies to sell at markets or for custom orders. My most requested items are my Green Tomato Pineapple Chutney and Tomato Jam. It’s interesting that those are both in the savory end of the food spectrum. Eventually, I would love to have all my products in production.
I grew up watching Julia Child. Currently, I love Chef Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born British chef. He focuses on vegetarian and vegan cooking, and his profiles and flavor combinations will change your appreciation for vegetables and fruit. Because I am interested in food science, I also like Chef Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, and Chef J.Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab.
Foodies in the family
My son has an excellent palette for a 10-year-old, and my daughter is our registered family vegetarian so she is into texture-based food. They love experimenting with food and being a part of my food journey. I've given them the option of choosing an immersion camp based on the language they are interested in learning. Miles will be attending the Japanese immersion camp, but I don't think he will end up being a chef. However, Piper says she wants to be a chef, and I'm all about that for her. She has the tenacity and thick skin to handle herself. Being a woman in the culinary world is not always easy.
Join Lydia as she continues her food journey on Facebook and Instagram @gwinstinykitchen, on her website gwinstinykitchen.com, in class at Kitchen Conservatory, and through Nine PBS’s Chew in the Lou podcast and social sites.