Helen Cavallo is totally fresh! We spoke with the star of That’s Fresh! on Disney Jr. about getting kids to cook in the kitchen, using fresh ingredients, and why it’s so satisfying to say, “Fwakata, baby!”
Let’s talk about That’s Fresh on Disney Jr.
We just finished shooting our 4th season. We shot 10 episodes, we did 5 recipes geared more towards kids with parental supervision. It’s super fun. No fire, no sharp edges, it was creative and fun….and it takes good, too.
I like that the show is both in Spanish and in English.
I’m half Colombian and half Italian. We experimented with speaking two languages, which is kind of how I speak at home, anyway, and we found that it really resonated with a lot of the people watching the show. The kids are such sponges; they pick up the words that I speak. I have a mallet that I bought in Colombia and every time I bang it, I say, “Fwakata, baby!” and the kids are saying it now too. It’s become like a verb.
You didn’t start out as a chef. You have a very interesting past.
Yeah, I used to work in production for many years, for commercials and videos. I feel like I got my MBA there; I learned everything to do in business, and everything not to do in business! You’re given these incredible tasks and you have to figure out how to do it. I decided to leave and then I wanted to do a catering company.
I love that your destiny kind of guides you to where you need to go.
It’s like when you’re in high school and they have all of those posters that say “Do what you love and you’ll never work,” and it’s true. I steered away from it, and now this is the best time I’ve ever had. This is what I should have been doing from the beginning. But I like to think that I’m a more well-rounded me.
How are you in your own kitchen?
Messy. Cooking fast. If I’m cooking for a party, everything comes at you fast. There is no greater feeling when plates come back clean. I do private catering; my company is called Food & Bounty and I do corporate events and I’ll do cooking instructions. My favorite thing lately is drinking healthy. I’ll make these fresh, delicious, healthy juices and if you want, you can spike it! [laughs] I’ll do frozen grapes with a little lemon juice and some micro basil in it; it has such nice freshness, and you can add whiskey to it.
Cooking with fresh ingredients really is the way to do it.
I grew up that way. My Dad was vegetarian, so he had a guy for everything.
Every Italian has a guy.
I have a guy for everything, too, and he’ll bring out the best for me. It’s really about sourcing the best for yourself and your family.
I think sometimes kids are so used to eating overly processed food that they don’t know what fresh really tastes like.
I have a lot of little friends in my life and I was cooking them leftovers on the stove, and one of them, who was 5, pointed to the microwave and said, “No, you put it in there and it pops out.”
Do you find that when you bring kids into the kitchen they’re more apt to cook? I find that to be true with my own kids, particularly my son who can be a picky eater.
I find that kids love the process. If you show them how things are done, from beginning to done, and then getting them involved in the conversation. I had one kid make cabbage rolls with me, and he ate them all, because it’s such a sense of accomplishment. Parents are looking for activities for kids, and if you don’t have time, this can be an extension of the play date. Take them to the farmer’s market; teach them how to pick a ripe watermelon, and it will get kids talking about food and what they can make with it. I don’t fuss too much with my recipes; I let the main ingredient be the star of the show. With minimal preparation, you can get the best. That’s why the show is called That’s Fresh: Recipes So Easy You’re Laughing. But I do like to throw out other suggestions, so there are no mistakes and no stress. I love it when they make recipes their own. I try to make it fun and engaging for kids as well as their parents. I have a firefighter fan who takes my recipes and makes it for his firehouse. It’s restaurant-quality food; it’s fun, it’s delicious.
So what are some of your favorite things to make?
I love making spaghetti sauce, and on the Colombian side, I love to make arroz con pollo, and on one episode, I did an entire meal on the grill, including salad, like a wedge, and then I did a salsa verde on the top. On another episode, I did an elegant brunch and we did a piece of toast, cut out a circle, and put the egg in it, which was so pretty. And then you can do sautéed mushrooms and spinach. I just love what I do. I’m really lucky and blessed. Everything that I’ve done has brought me to this place, and made me my best me.