Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. It’s a passion for children’s cookbook author and chef Brenda Leukhardt Tuttle, a self-proclaimed chocoholic who adores anything and everything chocolate.
No big surprise considering that her early childhood years were spent within sniffing distance of a famous chocolate factory.
“It always smelled like chocolate brownies at my house,” Brenda said of her childhood home in Hershey PA, where even the street lights are made in the shape of chocolate candy kisses in honor of the town’s famous Hershey chocolate legacy.
Though Hershey bills itself as “the sweetest place on earth,” Brenda’s family memories there are even sweeter. Her fondest ones focus on her two grandmothers and the time spent with them in their kitchens. It was there that Brenda’s lifetime love of baking was nurtured.
Every Saturday afternoon Brenda hightailed it over to the home of one grandmother to make chocolate chip cookies.
“She was a great cook. She had a big family and cooked dinner for them every night. The only thing she couldn’t get right was divinity,” she recalled, describing divinity as a nougat candy with nuts. “Everything else was great,” especially the cookies and other baked goods.
Sweet treats were also the order of the day at her other grandmother’s kitchen. A huge favorite was “Mississippi Mudpie”, a chocolate cake with coconut and pecans in the batter, topped with marshmallow crème and chocolate cream frosting. Brenda calls it “heaven in a 9-by-13 (inch) cake pan.”
Surrounded by good cooks who encouraged a little girl’s love of baking and always let her stir and mix to her heart’s content, it’s no surprise that Brenda opted for an education at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in downtown Pittsburgh. She graduated as valedictorian!
“Though Hershey, PA bills itself as “the sweetest place on earth,” Brenda’s family memories there are even sweeter. Her fondest ones focus on her two grandmothers and the time spent with them in their kitchens. It was there that Brenda’s lifetime love of baking was nurtured.”
But Brenda got more than cooking instruction at the culinary school. A recipe for love also awaited her in the person of a fellow student named Joe Tuttle. The two professional chefs married and have a year-old daughter, Morgan. Their jobs in the food industry have kept them moving around the country but they now make their home in Las Vegas.
“He’s my inspiration,” she said, speaking of everyday life with her husband. She also credits him with being the creative spark behind the children’s cookbook, “Chef Joey’s Cupcake Creation,” which she wrote and illustrated.
Chef Joey started as a fun pencil drawing on a piece of plain white printer paper. The finished product is a cartoon version of her husband dressed as a typical chef – the classic black-and-white-checkered pants, a contemporary white chef jacket, orange clogs and a poofy white chef’s hat. Brenda, who has no formal training in art, drew all the illustrations, and the book publisher’s illustrator enhanced them for publication.
The cookbook she “baked up” is intended to get parents into the kitchen with their children to bake – what else? – cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, that is.
The instructions couldn’t be simpler. The first step is to bake cupcakes from a box of chocolate cake mix according to instructions on the package. The real creativity begins with the frosting which is, of course, chocolate. Those without allergy to nuts can add peanut butter to the batter, something Brenda highly recommends for more yumminess.
Parents can keep charge of the mixer while they let the kids add ingredients, or they can just supervise the project, letting the kids buzz the mixer through the ingredients on their own. The last step is the most fun – spreading gobs of frosting on top of the cupcakes and on their hands, no doubt, in the process. It’s not only KFC fried chicken that’s finger-licking good!
Brenda recognizes that some parents may be concerned about a cookbook that features high calorie treats like chocolate-frosted chocolate cupcakes at a time when America is struggling with obesity issues.
But she had a reason for starting out with a dessert cookbook. Now that more and more kids know about Chef Joey’s kitchen adventures, she hopes they will hunger after future cartoon-illustrated cookbooks that she will base on healthier choices.
The idea was to lure children and parents into the kitchen to make cupcakes but her goal is to interest them in trying other foods. Her next one will be on pizza, not necessarily the healthiest of all choices, but a step in the right direction. Later books may feature salads or foods from other countries. There may even be a book on appetizers. Healthy ones, of course.
“Chef Joey is universal. He can travel around to many countries and introduce kids to different kinds of foods,” said Brenda, who plans to incorporate cartoon versions of herself and her daughter in future books.
Besides recipes, the books will also include related facts about each topic. For instance, readers of Chef Joey’s Cupcake Creations learn that Hostess Cupcakes were first made in 1919, but that the squiggly lines weren’t added until 1950.
Kids can also listen to Chef Joey’s adventures online, enjoying an interactive experience as they follow along in the book. There is even an online contest to enter. The website is www.chefjoeyscreations.com and information is also available on Twitter and Facebook.
Brenda acknowledges the need for extra patience and clean-up time when parents cook with their children. But she believes the children will reap unexpected benefits from reading cookbooks and learning their way around the kitchen. Some of the rewards she cites include the following:
- Being encouraged to try new things.
- Building self-confidence through accomplishment.
- Spending quality time with parents, perhaps passing down family stories about holiday meals and favorite recipes as they work alongside each other.
- Learning organizational and critical thinking skills as they explore what happens when too much or too little of an ingredient is added.
- Learning to follow directions and use math skills.
- Learning about nutrition by reading package labels.
“It’s so important to educate kids in a fun manner, and that’s what Chef Joey’s Cupcake Creations is all about,” she said.
Meanwhile, Brenda expects to keep researching, writing, cooking and creating new recipes and new books and, most importantly, she’ll keep on sampling whatever she cooks – especially if it’s chocolate!
“I plan to keep eating the world, one snack, entrée and dessert at a time,” she said, probably passing a plate of chocolate-frosted cupcakes even as she speaks.
Thank you Brenda, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2011 by Joyce Starr Macias and Story of My Life®