Teaching Families To Cook: Meet Amy Stoddart

Culinary nutrition and classical chef training can be worlds apart. Both fields concentrate on flavour and ingredients, but culinary nutrition is far more focused on health principles and using food for its therapeutic benefits than precision chopping or fancy techniques. That’s why we are always thrilled – and a little nervous – when classically trained chefs like Amy Stoddart join the program. We love learning from their vast kitchen experience and helping them meld their culinary talents with nutrition principles to maximize the health benefits of the food they create. It was this desire to learn more about nutrition that brought Amy to the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program in 2016.

Building a career as a caterer and personal chef

We tend to think of chefs as people who have a love of cooking that extended from childhood, learning at a parent or grandparent’s elbow, but Amy barely even knew how to boil an egg until adulthood. While studying for her undergraduate degree in finance, Amy got a job on holiday breaks working for a caterer that sparked a sudden, fierce love of cooking.

“I remember working in her kitchen and thought ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,” she says.

After graduating, Amy took some time off to travel around Southeast Asia. Friends of hers were in the process of opening a restaurant, and Amy pitched in. The experience opened her knowledge about whole foods, fermented foods, building flavours, cultural techniques and ingredients, and local stories and cultures.

Amy returned to Toronto and enrolled in the chef training program at George Brown College. She then spent more than a decade building a successful business as a caterer and personal chef and also taught her own cooking classes.

As her business grew, Amy’s personal interest in the nutrition side of food began to flourish – and she began to receive more clients with health challenges or who had special dietary requests. Her business evolved as Amy worked in tandem with natural health practitioners to help their clients make delicious meals and implement nutrition recommendations in a practical way. After Amy took an in-person course about cancer and nutrition that opened her eyes to the enormous impact food can have on health, she was eager to learn more.

Alongside her growing interest in nutrition, Amy desired a life that was more in sync with her family and friends. The long hours and the evening and weekend schedules of a caterer and chef didn’t offer Amy much time for herself.

Growing and enhancing her skill set

Teaching families to cook: Culinary Nutrition Expert Amy Stoddart

Photo: Found Her Productions

“I was craving more knowledge and raising two kids. I had learned a lot already, but I thought ‘the time is now’,” she says. “The program spoke to my passion, and the nutritional side was becoming more of what I was doing in my business, so I knew the program would be immediately applicable.”

The Culinary Nutrition Expert Program appeared on Amy’s radar when Academy of Culinary Nutrition Founder Meghan Telpner launched the program in 2011 (which was in-person back then). Given her busy work life, Amy didn’t have the time to dedicate to the program, but it remained top of mind – especially when Culinary Nutrition Experts began asking to intern in her kitchen for culinary experience.

When the program became available online in 2013, it suddenly became a viable possibility for Amy. In 2016, when Amy was on maternity leave with her second child and had put her business on hold, she decided it was time. And so, with two kids under the age of two, she signed up.

“I was craving more knowledge and raising two kids. I had learned a lot already, but I thought ‘the time is now’,” she says. “The program spoke to my passion, and the nutritional side was becoming more of what I was doing in my business, so I knew the program would be immediately applicable.”

As a new parent, Amy also wanted to learn how to support the nutritional needs of her children.

“Bringing my kids up to have a wonderful palate was already a priority,” she says, “but now I could add another level and understand food and ingredients and how they work within the body.”

Amy says she absolutely loved everything about being in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, including the recipe assignments, working with her coach, researching the benefits of ingredients, developing health-building recipes and menu plans, and learning to understand nutrition concepts she had been struggling with in a digestible and fun manner.

“As somebody who came from a professional kitchen with 15 years experience, I was so impressed by so many of the elements brought in,” she says. “I felt like it was such a wonderful merge of my skills and brought another level of expertise. The assignments were great because you’re really building a skill set the whole way through, and it’s applicable in real life.”

With two kids under the age of two, completing the program had its challenges but the result was well worth the effort.

“It was so rewarding. It was also hard because I had two little ones, but there are times where you push through because I was so excited about everything I was learning,” Amy says. “And the program is so well designed in terms of getting you to finish. The accountability is really built in there.”

Culinary nutrition in everyday life

Teaching families to cook: Culinary Nutrition Expert Amy Stoddart with her kids

Photo: Found Her Productions

Not long after she completed the program, Amy’s young son began having trouble with sleep and digestion. By implementing culinary nutrition principles and techniques, she was able to successfully navigate these challenges.

“I was able to use the knowledge and skill set that I learned in the program to solve his issues and it was life-changing,” she says.

Amy continued to practice culinary nutrition by helping family members and friends, and she began to educate fellow parents on how to raise healthy foodies through cooking classes.

“There’s always ways that I’m using this knowledge,” she says. “I want people to be introduced to incredibly gorgeous, nourishing food.”

Teaching families to cook and future directions

Culinary Nutrition Amy Stoddart

The global circumstances of the pandemic in 2020 led many to start cooking at home and make more things from scratch. Suddenly people were cooking three meals a day, plus snacks, while balancing working from home, home schooling, taking care of family members, and numerous other demands.

Amy began a Facebook Group called How to Cook Right Now to help families and individuals navigate their way through cooking and create calm in their kitchens during this unique time of social isolation. In this free group, Amy teaches handy shortcuts and easy recipes and shares nutrition information to empower her audience.

“During a time when everyone was so stressed, I felt like people needed to know how to make easy and healthy food,” she says. “As much as I love to teach techniques, I also like to weave in the culinary nutrition understanding for people in a way that’s fun, approachable, and easily adoptable.”

Amy has adored sharing in her Facebook group so much she decided to transition to teaching online. She has plans to launch several online programs that will help people learn basic cooking skills, teach techniques to cook more easily and quickly, master how to cook without a recipe, and more. Plus, she aims to continue inspiring others to strengthen – or discover – their own passions for cooking.

“What I enjoy most about what I do is the transformation that I take people to,” she says. “I just love lifting my clients up, building confidence within them, and I love that ‘wow’ that they have with the newfound love in the kitchen.”

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Header photo: Catherine Farquharson

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