Growing up, Nina Lattimer, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, loved watching her grandmother cook and helping out whenever she could. Over the years, she taught herself how to cook, and while being a stay-at-home mom, the idea of a cooking school for kids took hold. With little experience starting a business, Nina pushed her fears aside and decided to go for it, launching Lil Sous Chefs Cooking School in May of 2019. Currently, this award-winning cooking school is mobile around South Jersey for private home visits and pop-up venues. And though it’s geared for kids ages three and up, Nina recently added classes for adults and is looking for a permanent cooking studio to call home. We caught up with this busy South Jersey mom of two to discover her favorite dish to make, her firm belief in how kitchen skills build kids’ confidence, and the best place to hike in NJ for gorgeous views of the Philly skyline. (featured photo credit: Anna Wilbur)
Please tell us about your family and work background. I grew up in Somerdale, and my husband Brandon and I now live in South Jersey with our family, Nikolas (16) and Valentina (4). We love how close we are to the beach, Philadelphia, and NYC. Work-wise, I’d been bartending, but this business is something I’d wanted to do for a while–I’ve always loved food, am self-taught when it comes to the kitchen, and knew I had a lot to share. I was also a stay-at-home mom for a bit, but soon after Valentina was born, I finally decided to give my business idea a chance. I was aware of a few cooking businesses in South Jersey, but not as many as North Jersey has, so I knew there was a market for it. I’m so glad I finally took the leap and followed my dreams.
Where did your love of cooking come from? My love of cooking came from my grandmom, who cooked every day. And she loved doing it all–it wasn’t just one type of food she cooked. I watched her a lot and was lucky enough to lend a hand now and then.
What do you wish you had known before launching your business that might have helped? I didn’t realize how many courses I’d need to take to open a cooking school. When you’re opening a food-related business, there are specific certifications along with particular health department requirements and zoning issues you have to take into account. It all worked out, but it did add an extra six months to my launch date.
What does your family do to help support your business? My family is a tremendous support. My husband helps me pack the truck. My son was my first cooking assistant, working with me until Covid shut us down. Since we’ve been back up and running, he’ll still help out when I need another assistant, but it’s only when he doesn’t have a school or sports commitment. And my daughter also helps me put the coloring sheets and other printouts in piles for the different age group classes. Many of the younger kids have a short attention span, so we play games and do other activities to keep them engaged the entire class.
What is your favorite thing to make? I taught myself to make authentic Mexican street tacos, and they’re my favorite food by far. That probably explains why my favorite restaurant is La Esperanza, where I always order tacos, chips, and salsa. Their salsa is the absolute best—it’s not too chunky and has just the right amount of spice.
You recently added an adult cooking class to your rotation. Is this something you plan to continue doing? Yes, we’ll continue to do indoor and outdoor private events for adults through our Adult Cooking Parties, where we come to you. Eventually, we plan on having a very special studio kitchen for adult classes and events, which will be perfect for families, friends, and corporate events.
What do you want Nikolas and Valentina to learn by seeing you run your business? I want them to know how to cook and be independent with it when they’re older. And I want them to know that you can be rewarded with great things when you take risks in life.
What do you want your students to learn? I want my students to have fun and learn age-appropriate basic cooking skills. They shouldn’t be afraid to turn on a stove and use a knife with a parent present. I want to help them build confidence in themselves that will spill over into other areas of their lives. With confidence, they know they can try again until they get it right. It’s a great life lesson.
What’s next? We’re on the hunt for the perfect location to run our cooking school. And once we find it, we have lots of big, exciting plans to grow the business.
Where are some of your favorite places to visit in NJ with your family? Our number one thing to do is to head to the beach. We have a family shore house in Brigantine, but we like to go to all the different beaches and relax and play in the sand and the ocean. We also love to hike Blueberry Hill because if you make it to the top, you can see the skyline of Philadelphia. And for a date night, Brandon and I love going out for dinner and a movie. Though we love trying new places to eat, La Esperanza is a favorite.
Nina’s daughter, Valentina, is a chip off the old block. Here, she’s preparing to cook Ratatouille for her cooking channel on YouTube- Chef VML.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? I love the Spot, a rec center in the Voorhees Town Center. It’s a fantastic place for teens to hang out with a snack bar, TVs, art supplies, tables, books, games, and events. I also love Sugar Plum Studio, an edible art business that sells edible treat decorating kits to go. Another great business is Morning Glori Farmette, an alpaca farm. I’ve done some combo classes with them, and it’s always a hit. First, the kids cook with me, and then they’ll spend some time petting and feeding the alpacas.
What is your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? Don’t procrastinate. Find your passion, give it 100% and chase your dreams!
For more information on Nina Lattimer and Lil Sous Chefs, please visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.