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July 29, 2019
By Matia Burnett
Authors and international chefs collaborate to create a “compassionate generation of kids."

Sommelier Sarah Thomas has fond memories of her mother’s home cooking: “I used to hang out under the kitchen table as a child, listening to my mom as she cooked, and enjoy being transported by the aromas that filled our kitchen.” Thomas grew up to become the cofounder of Kalamata’s Kitchen—a multiplatform brand that publishes food- and travel-themed children’s books.

Thomas says that her friend Derek Wallace conceived of the idea for Kalamata’s Kitchen and told her about it, and she was immediately enthusiastic about collaborating. Wallace envisioned a publishing program that would allow him to share his love for discovering new foods and cultures with his son. “He had the idea to do this through a character, and that’s how Kalamata was born,” Thomas says.

So far, Kalamata’s Kitchen has published three children’s picture books, each of which explores a different culture through its cuisine. The stories are told from the perspective of a girl named Kalamata and her stuffed alligator, Al Dente. The stories also introduce characters based on real chefs and food personalities.

Though Kalamata’s Kitchen is ostensibly all about food, there is a deeper purpose behind the platform: “Our mission is to create a more curious and compassionate generation of kids and grown-ups, using food as a bridge to diverse cultures and experiences,” Thomas says. “When we talk about and share our traditions, we suddenly have a connection to, and understanding of, this big flavorful world.”

Illustrating the series is the fine artist and graphic designer Joanna “Jo” Edwards, who drew from her childhood memories of trying new foods when crafting the images: “I was the kid who ate anything,” Edwards writes on the Kalamata’s Kitchen website.

Book one, Kalamata’s Kitchen (2018), features chef Ilma Lopez, co-owner and pastry chef at Blue Rooster Food Company and Piccolo in Portland, Maine. In the story, Kalamata and Al Dente travel to Lopez’s abuelita’s kitchen in Venezuela. There, Kalamata learns about Venezuelan foods and tries a new dessert.

In Kalamata’s Orchard Adventure, the characters take a trip to an apple orchard with chef Trevett Hooper, based in Pittsburgh. They taste apples and, according to Thomas, “explore the idea of what home smells like.”

The third book, À la Kalamata, features Eric Ripert, chef at Le Bernardin in New York City (where Thomas works as a sommelier). In the story, characters based on Ripert and his son, Adrien, travel with Kalamata and Al Dente to Southern France. Ripert became involved with Kalamata’s Kitchen after overhearing Thomas discussing the project. “My food memories as a child are very important to me, so I want to encourage kids to create connections through food,” he says. “Kalamata’s Kitchen does so in a unique way through storytelling.”

While collaborating on the story, Ripert reflected on his experiences cooking with his son, who became excited about trying international cuisine at a young age. Ripert and Adrien would imagine a new restaurant at their home each Sunday; Ripert served as the head chef, while Adrien was the maître d’ and created the menus. Ripert believes that the best way to get kids interested in cooking is to “make the process both fun and delicious.”

In addition to the picture books, Kalamata’s Kitchen has the online Taste Bud Travel Guide series, which currently features 15 U.S. cities, with 10 more to come. The guides include photographs of restaurants and favorite foods in each of the locations. Online, the brand also sells games, kitchen tools, aprons, and even temporary tattoos.

Thomas says that for her, there’s no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. In fact, the team has introduced a social content series, Taste Bud Snacks, that welcomes more individuals from the food community. Top Chef finalist Adrienne Cheatham was featured in the first episode.

“It truly is a family effort,” Thomas says. “Those of us who work on the brand—whether it’s my cofounder, myself, or our partners—all feel a very personal connection to the mission. At its core lives a sentiment that is met with open arms and excitement, and we couldn’t be happier to share it with the world.”