Cooking Up A Storm With Junior Chef Kiara
Cooking With Kiara: Passion And Enthusiasm In The Kitchen
Rack of lamb with roasted carrots and sweet potato puree is a dinner that anyone would be proud to serve their family. But when the chef is just 11-years-old, it takes things to a whole new level! Meet Kiara Koizumi, a fifth-grader with an infectious smile and her own YouTube Channel, “Cooking With Kiara," and her “assistant-in-chief,” mother Chriss Macpherson.
Kiara, the youngest of three siblings, lives in Yamanashi prefecture with her Japanese father, New Zealand mother and brother Kyle—the biggest brother Asahi is currently away at university in New Zealand. She attends the local Japanese school and switches back and forth between Japanese and English with ease.
Kiara cooks dinner for her family on a regular basis, but the first dish she made all by herself was a loaf of bread at the age of five. At the stage when most kids are still rolling out playdough, Kiara had already moved on to the real thing. “I liked to knead the dough,” she says matter-of-factly.
Meeting her mum Chriss, an English teacher, it is easy to see that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The bubbly Kiwi has always done her best to encourage and facilitate her children’s interests, and she recalls how Kiara’s fascination with food manifested itself early.
“As a little baby, she wanted to crawl into the kitchen and be part of the action. I’d lift her up, pop her in the sink and let her wash carrots,” Chriss says. “A messy kid is a happy kid!”
Getting Started As A YouTuber
The inspiration to start Cooking With Kiara originally began with a gift. “My mum’s friend gave me a nice apron to I use when I cooked, and then she suggested I could show it off,” says Kiara.
Around the same time, brother Kyle went over to New Zealand on a homestay for several months. “Kiara is really close to her brother and she was missing him,” explains Chriss. “So launching Cooking With Kiara was a joint project for her and me, and a great way to bond.”
[…] the first dish she made all by herself was a loaf of bread at the age of five
The mother-daughter duo uploads a new video each week, and Chriss describes the process as “organic and a team effort”.
“We usually film on Tuesdays, as my mum doesn’t have classes and I come early from school on that day. I wasn’t used to being filmed, so standing in front of the camera was hard at first,” says Kiara. “If you look at the latest episodes and compare them to the first ones when I started back in April (last year), there’s quite a big difference!”
Sometimes there have been technical hitches, too. “Well, there have been occasions when I pressed the wrong button,” Chriss confesses.
“Yeah, Mum, you take photos instead of videos!” says Kiara, jumping in. “And sometimes my dad walks in when we’re filming, and I have a dog and 5 pm is his dinner time, so he asks to be fed. And then there’s my pet bird or my brother….it’s frustrating.” It isn’t easy being a YouTuber!
Chriss realizes that some people might be skeptical about letting a young child start a YouTube Channel, with Kiara being only 10 when she began. “I would like to say that I am very aware that there are some risks and I did think carefully about this aspect when we started. I have also seen how much she really loves doing this, and how her confidence and skills have grown.”
Chriss monitors the YouTube account and related social media, and everything goes through her before she shares feedback with Kiara. Chriss also points out that this has been a good way for Kiara to learn about social media and teach her about the Internet in a safe and controlled way.
Kiara’s Café Debut
Since launching her own channel, Kiara has branched out into other projects with her cooking. Under the name “Kiara’s Café”, she has hosted two pop-up events home so far. The first one featured hamburgers—with homemade bread buns, naturally—while the second featured a variety of savory pies and desserts.
“It was kind of my idea. I really wanted a Kitchen Aid, so I had the idea to make some money to earn it by doing my café events,” says the mini entrepreneur. “The hardest part was waking up at 3 am to get started on the pies!”
I attended the second Kiara’s Café event, and while Chriss was on hand, it was definitely Kiara who was in charge, from creating the menus to taking orders and collecting payment when guests left. Over the course of several hours, more than 50 people stopped by for a taste of homemade pie.
“The best thing was getting to see other people taste my food because usually, it’s just my family who eat it,” says Kiara, who ultimately made enough money to buy the coveted Kitchen Aid.
As for cleaning up the kitchen, Kiara says she generally tidies up as she goes, but admits that when there is a lot to do or when she is very tired, she gets some help from her number one supporter—Mum!
Connections Through Cooking
In recent months, Kiara has branched out to use cooking as a way to connect with and inspire other youngsters. She did a guest lesson at a family friend’s English school, where she conducted a cooking class in English for other elementary school-age children. She chose to make pastries called beignets, which are made from deep-fried choux pastry and are similar to doughnuts.
She also participated in an online link-up between children in Kitakyushu, Japan, and Indonesia through Kids2Kids Change the World, a program fostering global competence for children through intercultural exchange. Kiara delivered a cooking lesson using mostly locally-grown ingredients and with as little waste as possible. Inspired by her grandmas in New Zealand and Japan, who are both keen gardeners, she also discussed eco-friendly techniques such as composting.
In February, Kiara had an opportunity that would make most cooks twice her age green with envy: she was able to spend a day behind the scenes at Inua, one of the most talked-about eateries in Tokyo.
[…] she gets some help from her number one supporter—Mum!
The multinational staff is led by head chef Thomas Frebel, formerly of two-star Michelin restaurant Noma in Denmark. Kiara shadowed a young chef named Misha Fukuda.
“Misha is in charge of the fermentation and she showed me all kinds of things, like different types of miso. It made me think I’d like to use as many natural ingredients as possible, too. They only open for dinner, so I was there while they were preparing. I could see there was a lot of teamwork,” says Kiara, her eyes shining at the memory.
“And we got to eat with the staff, too!” Chriss chimes in.
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Asked about which famous chef she admires, Kiara immediately names fellow Kiwi Chelsea Winter, a winner of TV’s New Zealand MasterChef and now a popular food writer. After hearing about her biggest fan in Japan thanks to a tip-off from a kind friend, the celebrity chef sent her an encouraging personal email and even follows Kiara on Instagram.
For other parents who might be feeling a little daunted at the prospect of letting their kids loose in the kitchen, Chriss offers some words of support:
“I do sympathize with busy mothers who come home and are exhausted! But one thing I said to myself from the start was if any of the kids said ‘Mum, can I help?’, I would never reject that. Even though it can be easier to do it yourself, make them feel that their offer is the best you’ve heard all day! It takes some courage, but it pays off in the long run.”
At the stage when most kids are still rolling out playdough, Kiara had already moved on to the real thing
With two older sons, Chriss knows that life is going to get more hectic as Kiara enters her teens and moves forward in the Japanese school system. “We will take it as it comes. I am basically just here for support and I’ll follow her lead. As long as she is happy.”
As for Kiara herself, she has some big dreams for her future. “I would like to have a Michelin star restaurant, where I can work with a great team!”