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Young chefs learn to kick it up a notch
Posted April 9, 2008

The Claremont Village has turned up the heat, housing an array of new restaurants that have opened since its most recent renovation. But what some may not know is a good amount of the heat is coming from the vibrant kitchen of the Young Chefs Academy located in the Village.

In November 2007, Leslie Assaman, a Pasadena Culinary Arts graduate, opened the Young Chefs Academy in Claremont, making it the second located in Southern California.

A dentist office visit turned into an opportunity of a lifetime for Assaman, who came across an ad for YCA when waiting for an appointment.

“It was a very big investment and without the support and backing of my family and husband Robert I could have not done it,” Assaman said.

Established in April 2003 out of Waco, Texas, founders Julie Fabing Burleson and Suzy Vinson Nettles have transformed their cooking school from one location and turned it into one of the fastest growing children's concepts in the country with more than 90 franchises sold in the first year.

The Academy offers classes to children ages 3 and up in a safe environment that encourages discovery and creativity with the staff made up of four chefs at the Village location.

“I have a great staff; they are truly fantastic,” Assaman said.

The main ingredient in the colorful kitchen and two classrooms at the YCA is learning food preparation, while adding kitchen safety, etiquette, table setting and a little menu planning but definitely not forgetting laughter to taste.

“The bright colors create a fun and great atmosphere for all to enjoy,” David and Margaret recreational counselor Tanesha Atwell said.

While some children find interest in sports and other extracurricular activities, there are others who want to belong, which is exactly what YCA does for the many attendees.

“I had a parent come in one day and tell me that she had never seen this kid any happier. That is what it is all about,” Assaman said.

The Academy offers cooking classes to a wide variety of groups, including after school and private groups, home schooling groups, field trips, play groups, summer camps, holiday camps, scout troop badge classes, adult parties and birthday parties.

“This is what I wanted, but there was nothing that existed,” Orange Coast College culinary arts graduate and Chef Eric Sessions said.

“The stuff they do here is really cooking. It is turned down for their level but still good. Just the other day the kids were making chicken cordon bleu and soufflé,” Sessions said.

Offering a variety of learning techniques to the children, YCA gives trivia questions which the children are asked to answer in a formatted written paragraph for their next session.

Being given “chef bucks” that can be used in the store located in the Academy then rewards the children.

Like extracurricular activity there is time and practice put into the Young Chefs Academy allowing not only an outlet to the children but also a chance for them to sway some of the world's most picky eaters.

“I have definitely found where I want to be,” Assaman said.

For more information on the Young Chefs Academy,visit

Danielle Lampkin can be reached at