DEL MAR — Fernanda Larson is a certified nutritionist and culinary instructor who uses cooking to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as well as science, social studies and other subjects to local elementary school students.
As founder of Cook for Thought, she imparts a sensory knowledge of American history by taking students on a culinary tour of the United States.
“American culture goes far deeper than hot dogs and hamburgers,” she said. “We discuss the Native American diet, which includes seeds, and learn how to make Three Sisters Stew where students roast quail, which is the California state bird. Students also learn how to make other regional favorites such as Manhattan clam chowder, fish tacos (Southern California), and cedar planked salmon (Seattle, Wash.).”
In 1997, Larson traveled from her home in southern Brazil to the United States to begin work on a master’s degree in nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash.
“I grew up in a gourmand family,” she explained. “Our family’s backbone was in the kitchen, and culinary roots were passed on inter-generationally in a natural, organic, intrinsic manner. Nutrition was a natural career path for me as I always had a curious mind and wanted to find the science behind everything.”
Larson’s early career revolved around clinical nutrition by preparing dietary recommendations, nutritional supplementation and computer-generated analysis. She was surprised to learn that few Americans know how to cook. This made it difficult for many of her clients to actually implement her nutritional recommendations.
“So I started teaching basic, healthy cooking with enormous success … and then I became a mother,” she explained. “I understood the immense potential that nutrition and culinary education has by observing my two young daughters learn through food and cooking. The multi-sensorial, experimental activities that can be developed through cooking are limitless.”
By working in the kitchen with Sophia, now 9, and Giulia, 3, Larson discovered that teaching through cooking was more powerful than simply teaching cooking. Last year the idea for Cook for Thought came about when Larson volunteered during a history segment about local Native American tribes in Sophia’s fourth-grade class at Del Mar Hills Academy.
“I had the idea of doing a cooking demonstration for the class highlighting the way local Native Americans harvested, stored, prepared and ate their food,” she said. “The teachers were extremely supportive, and the class was a huge success.”
As Larson presented her ideas to the school staff, more teachers wanted to get involved. The grade-specific assemblies developed into summer sessions titled, “Cooking through California’s History” and “America, the Delicious.”
Today, Larson offers enrichment classes, grade-specific assemblies and private parties.
“There are 10 to 12 different classes that I bring to school to complement whatever students are learning,” she said. “It’s completely mobile.”
Sophia is a competitive soccer player who has acquired real life applications from learning to cook with her mother.
“She cares for other people in ways like making a sports drink (Gatorade) using natural flavors and ingredients without food coloring or corn syrup,” Sophia explained.
The week of Sept. 30, Larson will launch an eight-week program titled, “Let’s Open a Restaurant” for grades two through five at the Del Mar Union School District where students will develop and implement a concept for a restaurant learning skills such as consumer research, business planning and marketing. The last day of class students will serve food from their “restaurant” to family members.
On Oct. 10, during Red Ribbon Week, Larson will make a presentation at an assembly at Del Mar Hills Academy where she’ll share her recipe for her natural “sports drink recipe” with more than 300 students and staff.
This holiday season, Larson is planning a winter camp titled, “Culinary Traditions Around the World.”
Larson’s own palate is eclectic.
“My favorite cuisine is the one that is spontaneous,” she said. “Open your fridge, find real food, use real tools, get your family involved and come up with something delicious! Let children chop, let them peel, let them sauté — let them give their own ideas on how a dish should look or taste. You are helping them create vital life skills!”
For more information about Larson’s upcoming classes, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call (858) 242-2341 or visit her website, cookforthought.com.