Lisa is a writer, budding photographer and herb enthusiast. She enjoys poking around in the garden, creating in the kitchen and reading a good book (when she’s not answering the call of “Mom!” from her five children).
I recently attended an Herb Day conference at the University of Illinois that included a cooking demonstration by Linda Franzo. Linda is a funny, passionate cook from Louisiana (by way of New York!) whose bio in the attendee packet caught my eye. As a former speech therapist, she found that cooking with children was a sure-fire way to get them to talk, and therefore was very effective in her work to correct speech problems. She now owns Passionate Platter, a “kitchen garden marketplace” offering catering, classes and parties for adults and children. I was intrigued, so I caught up with her after the conference to ask her more about her work with kids.
As a speech therapist, Linda found that making simple recipes with non-verbal children stimulated their speech by working the muscles of the mouth through chewing, swallowing and puckering of the lips. Kids would make every effort to stretch their tongues to taste the food, played with homemade bubble juice to encourage blowing, or other fun activities. Children with social communication issues would lay down their guard. Kids reached their language goals and vocabulary increased!
Girls preparing calendula for a recipe.
Photo by Linda Franzo
Herbs play an integral part in Linda's classes and menus at Passionate Platter. The day I talked with her, she had just made herb cream cheese and yogurt dip with 30 Girl Scouts. Here's how Linda described the class:
“I had six plates with fresh cut herbs on them. I showed them each herb and they immediately wanted to smell and touch the herbs. I passed them around, then they chopped the herbs with plastic knives. They just loved it! Some will relate a family experience tied to the herb they are cutting, most have never been exposed to the fresh herbs. They love the herbs, especially mint, lemon balm, dill, fennel and basil. These are familiar scents. Also, most of them are thrilled to use a knife. One child said today that she never held a knife before. This is not uncommon.”
Passionate Platter offers Kids Cooking Camps during the summer with themes like “Little Italy,” “Pan-Asian-Latin-Luau” or “Celebrity Chef.” The classes include a tour of Linda's garden as she identifies herbs and the kids harvest them for the recipes they will create. Activities include an herb scavenger hunt and planting up an herb to take home with them. By the end of the week, each child can identify the herbs and tell how they were used in the dishes. One time a student even commented “Miss Linda can show us how to cook anything in a shoe ... and it would still taste great!”
Sampling flavored popcorn at Passionate Platter.
Photo by Linda Franzo
Passionate Platter's influence extends beyond it's kitchen. Linda currently mentors at a school herb and vegetable garden, and is designing garden-to-table lesson plans. She tell me, “Most children would not be exposed to this organic experience. Whether they take home the lessons and grow now, or somewhere later in their adult life they will smell some fresh basil or mint and say 'I remember when I cut and cooked herbs with the lady in the herb garden.' This is my green imprint.”