Nine-year-old Lower Merion resident Ava Terosky was schooling Marc Vetri on the right way to fry an omelet. “You have to swirl the butter around so it doesn’t burn,” she told him with a stern look.
“You don’t tell someone like that what to do!” murmured Terosky’s grandmother Linda Lapointe, watching proudly from a few feet away.
But the superstar chef didn’t seem to mind.
“If every kid knew how to cook like she does,” Vetri told the crowd watching the demonstration at his eponymous Spruce Street restaurant, “it would be amazing.”
Terosky doesn’t plan on working in restaurants when she grows up. Though she suspects cooking will always be hobby, she’s leaning towards pursuing a career in photography or software engineering — her fourth grade class at Cynwyd Elementary has recently been learning how to write code.
Despite her lack of chef aspirations, the group of people — which included various members the Terosky family, their friends, a TV cameraman, several reporters and Pa. Senator Bob Casey — was assembled in Vetri’s upstairs kitchen solely because of Ava’s culinary talent. Earlier this summer, she’d won the right to represent Pennsylvania at the annual Kids’ State Dinner at the White House. Her dog-shaped omelet made with Geary Farm eggs, spinach and Kennett Square mushrooms was chosen a winner out of 1,200 kid-recipe entries in Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunch Challenge.
Terosky wasn’t surprised by the success of her bid. “I knew I was going to win,” she said. “I just knew it.”
“The power of positive thinking, there you go,” added her mother, Aimee Terosky. Aimee described how, when they first searched online for ideas for a Pennsylvania-connected recipe, most of the results had been decidedly non-healthy.
“Things that came up were like cheesesteaks and scrapple and soft pretzels,” Ava explained. In the end, Ava’s father, Jeff Terosky, suggested that she do one of her famous animal-shaped omelets. Making food fashioned into animals is something Ava came up with years ago to help entice her younger sister Caitlin — an extremely picky eater who doesn’t even like sweets — to partake in a bigger variety of dishes.
Ava, who counts asparagus among her favorite foods and “despises” hot dogs, has been cooking with her father since she was around two years old.
“My dad taught me to cook because my mom’s a lost cause,” Ava explained. “He needed a partner. My mom can’t cook at all.”
“Hey, I make a mean salad!” said Aimee, affecting an air of indignance.
“Yeah, mean to my tastebuds,” Ava shot back.
Aimee laughed. “Her dad is the is one who really loves food and restaurants. He totally owes Ava big-time for getting him a chance to hang out with Marc Vetri.”
Jeff has been an admirer of Vetri for years, but before she won the White House contest and got the invite to cook in front of Sen. Casey, Ava had never heard of him. When she looked him up, she was duly impressed.
“I heard he’s been studying the way they prepare food in Italy for most of his professional life,” she said with reverence. Ava became fascinated with Italian cuisine a few years ago, when her family started what’s become an annual “Tuscan dinner feast” at a long table set up in the driveway they share with their Main Line neighbor.
“Like 40 people come over for it, and my dad cooks like a maniac,” she explained, adding that she often helps with items like the charcuterie plate and dessert. Though the dinner is free, since it’s hosted for friends, there is a charity component. Each of the invited kids picks a food-related charity, researches it, and gives a short speech making the case for supporting it. The adults at the table then pony up cash to be donated to the various causes.
Now that she knows about it, Ava’s chosen charity this year will likely be the Vetri Community Foundation, which teaches kids to cook and enjoy healthy lunches at underserved schools and summer camps through its Eatiquette program.
Standing next to Vetri at the stove in the demonstration kitchen, Ava was getting impatient waiting for her second saute pan to warm up.
“This is the hardest part,” she said, swaying from foot to foot and tapping her fingers. “You can’t put the food in until it’s the right temperature or it won’t work.”
“You think this is tough?” asked the chef with a smirk. “Just imagine what it’s like when dozens of paying customers are waiting!”