A place to practice
Kid-friendly strategies like these are part of what sets Blue Ribbon apart, as does the school's impressive 5,200-square-foot new facility, which opened last July. Perched at the edge of Lake Union, the space boasts large teaching kitchens and a baking area where hands-on classes take place, plus an outdoor patio where kids eat lunch in the summer and a dining room where they serve the formal graduation dinners to their parents. Look around and you'll see other telling details, from the collection of cookbooks to inspire young minds to the 100-plus aprons hanging on hooks near the entryway.
As the Duppenthalers see it, the professional facilities are not only nice, they're essential. "When I went to cooking school, I was watching experts cook all the time and I had no place to practice myself. It just didn't work," Virginia says. "If you don't have a place of your own to cook, you lose it."
If Blue Ribbon has carved out an unusual niche, it somehow makes sense, given Virginia's background. She was raised in a small town in Georgia, where her father, a food technologist, invented the now-famous corn dog. "My dad worked out the recipe with me at home on a stool," she recalls. "We'd dip the hot dog into the cornbread and then we'd fry it up." Eventually the family started manufacturing corn dogs for restaurants and the retail market. By the time Virginia started college in Ames, Iowa, she was a bona fide foodie ― but not the corn dog-style fast-food variety. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and now credits that experience with revealing just how much of an equalizer food can be. "Food brings people together, because it's common ground for everyone," she says. That goes for kids too.
INFO: Blue Ribbon Cooking School (from $345; 2501 Fairview Ave. E.; www.blueribboncooking.com or 206/328-2442) offers weeklong cooking camps from late June through August for three age groups: 4-7, 8-11, and 12-17.