By Tova Fruchtman

When Jennifer Fox decided to leave her finance and accounting career in the corporate world she spent about a year researching what she wanted to do next.

She knew she wanted to do some type of activity for children. That, combined with her love of cooking brought her to the Young Chef’s Academy — a bright, colorful kitchen setting that offers cooking classes, birthday parties and field trips for children.

At the time, there was only the original Young Chef’s Academy in Waco, Texas, and Fox flew out to meet the owners and creators of the business.

“I thought, ‘This is such a healthy concept, and such a fun one, that how could we do anything but hit a homerun with it here in the Atlanta area,’ ” Fox said. “I’m a mom, and the whole time I was learning about Young Chef’s Academy franchise as a business, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I would have loved to have had this opportunity when my kids were younger.”

It’s been more than a year since Fox opened her own franchise of Young Chef’s Academy in Sandy Springs’s CityWalk shopping center and she has plans to open in Buckhead and East Cobb next.

The concept has been a hit. Summer and school break camps that partner with Imagym- a few doors away, and offers yoga, art, culture and cooking — fill up fast. After school classes, field trips and birthday parties are all popular.

Children ages 3 to 17 can have birthday parties that start at $275, Fox said, and added that parents love the fact that they “don’t have to lift a finger,” and each detail is taken care of from balloons, to cake, to chef hats for each child.

“We make the birthday party experience exactly what the parents want it to be in every way, shape and form, and all they have to do is come with a birthday child and a camera,” Fox said.

Nikki Berger signed her two sons up for summer camp after they attended a birthday party at YCA and wanted to go back.

“The boys have always been interested in helping in the kitchen, breaking

eggs, pouring and mixing things, and of course the really fun stuff like using the

food processor and blender. They have been interested in trying to make the

things they learned how to cook during camp,” she said.

When school is in session, after-school classes are offered throughout the week, where students prepare two to three recipes each week to go with a monthly theme from Greek to Island Hopping and Italian to Cooking with the Celebrities using recipes from celebrity chefs.

Caroline Weller, 12, said she has learned plenty in her weekly classes. “I have learned how to measure flour correctly, recipes, different math equations, and how to be a great cook,” said Weller, adding she has also made many of the recipes she learned at at home.

During the year, schools come for daytime field trips — many of which are tailor-made to fit the students’ currently studies.

Ian Shiverick, a teacher at Kingsley Charter Elementary School in Dunwoody, came to Young Chefs on a field trip with his class.

“Young Chef’s is a fun way for students to learn about measurement, temperature, chemical reactions, as well as to practice listening and following directions,” Shiverick said.

Denene Millner-Chiles drove 40 minutes each way last year so her daughter Mari, 7, who has talked of being a chef since she was 3, could attend the summer camp at Young Chef’s Academy.

“My favorite recipe was making that ziti pasta with the yummy sauce. It was cool to crack the eggs and put your hands in the dough and play with it. It was very good and when I tasted it, I had four servings,” Mari said.

“And we also got to do things out of the kitchen like art. I painted a picture for my dad one time. And I did a yoga class and a gym class too. And it was very fun.”

“My daughters Mari and Lila absolutely adore cooking, but I’m a busy mom and most of the time I just want to get dinner to the table, and so I don’t cook with them as often as they would like,” Millner-Chiles said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity to let them get some hands-on cooking time.”

After each class — after school, at a field trip or a birthday party — the children take home the recipe. With healthy foods, they also get the nutrition facts and learn how to read nutrition labels.

“Even kids as young as five or six can start learning what the nutrition information means,” Fox said. And she sees children expanding their eating horizons — eating broccoli and cottage cheese on pizza or salmon patties.

“The most rewarding aspect of this business is to see the kids’ delight and enjoyment at discovering how to cook, and the self-confidence that they get out of accomplishing something like that,” Fox said.

For more information, visit the store, 227 Sandy Springs Place, Suite 368, Sandy Springs, call 404-255-9263 or visit the