They’re 10, they like foie gras and oysters, and they want to go to culinary school. Now.
Waiters routinely hand Lilly and Audrey Andrews the children’s menu when they go out to eat. It makes sense, they are only 10. But they always decline, politely requesting on this day, to sample the oysters and foie gras appetizer.
“We want to open a restaurant with adult food in kid-sized portions,” explains Audrey, smearing the foie gras onto a slice of bread.
“Kids shouldn’t eat this much. The plates are WAY too big,” quips Lilly as she expertly tilts an oyster to her lips.
A joint restaurant is just an amuse-bouche on the 12-course, entrepreneurial menu the Twin Chefs plan to pursue. Despite their limited years, Audrey and Lilly appear to be on the cusp of establishing a culinary empire based on healthy, sophisticated food for kids. Will they rival, say, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay or even Wolfgang Puck? Hard to say. Again, they’re only 10. But they’ve already cooked pizza with Puck in his own kitchen. They’ve had two national appearances on Good Morning, America, cooked vegan sandwiches for the reigning queen of daytime talk on Ellen, been national spokes-chefs for Cuties California Mandarins, and they’re working to become the youngest students ever admitted to a professional culinary school. The record to beat is 11, and they have until their birthday in December to do it.
Cooking is their primary love, but their dreams stretch far beyond the kitchen. Besides the television shows and cookbooks that now seem inevitable, in the future you may be able to buy Twin Chefs clothing for kids, made in earth tones instead of the stereotypical bright blues and pinks.
Or how about Twin Chefs rustically elegant and sustainably produced home décor? Perhaps even a Twin Chefs magazine, since both girls love to write. Basically, Sonoma appears to be harboring the next generation of lifestyle gurus. Look out Martha Stewart.
“We like to reuse things in a new way,” Lilly says matter-of-factly, referring to everything from the recipes they repurpose to reducing the butter, oil and salt to transforming the flower-girl dresses into ice cream cone costumes for Halloween.
Food is no hobby to these pint-sized epicureans; it’s been a way of life since they learned to walk. As tender-hearted toddlers, they were terrified of the violence in cartoons; but watching great chefs sauté, flambé and purée different foods and flavors on The Food Network instantly captured their imaginations. Tina Schultheiss, the Twin Chefs’ mother and 24/7 reality check, says her “ah-ha” moment came when the girls were about 4 and she overheard their heated debate about whether a yogurt parfait was flavored with lemon extract or orange zest. “They were really kind of fighting over it,” she recalls.
Like a hot pot, it quickly boiled over from there. The girls began cooking with their parents; which led to cooking with private instructors; which led to launching a Web site detailing their healthy, kid-friendly recipes and culinary adventures; which led to national television appearances.
Today they’re prone to saying things like, “I would use all of my Christmas money, which is $20, on saffron” (Audrey); and “I like to order the chef’s choice, then the chef gets to choose his favorite and best meal” (Lilly).
Of course, they’ve had a little help along the way. But not the scary, Toddlers-and-Tiaras, evil-stage-mother kind of help. Mom and Dad have been on the sidelines, encouraging the girls’ interest in the same way all parents do. “It’s like a sport,” Tina explains. “Some kids play soccer every day, the twins cook. They love food and learning about food.”
OK, so maybe not all kids leave school (accompanied by a tutor) to do 22 regional television interviews in one day. But Tina insists that family always comes first in the Andrews household. “My husband and I have made the decision that they can follow their dreams at such a young age, but only if it works for all of us,” she says. That means when the girls have to travel for work, it’s a family affair, with cultural excursions that interest all of the Andrews.
But really, there’s no stopping these girls —they are voracious in their passion. Like little sponges, they soak in every food fact they find. “Did you know Cheetos are baked packing peanuts?” asks Audrey in disbelief, revealing that even these juvenile food junkies are not immune to urban myth.
Tina jumps in, “I don’t tell them these things, they look them up on the Internet,” waving her hands to signify she doesn’t have anything to do with it. Well-grounded and refreshingly real, Tina will even admit to sneaking out for junk food with older daughter, Catherine, much to the twins’ chagrin.
Healthy eating has always been their message, but it’s a viewpoint their Chicken-McNugget-loving classmates don’t always appreciate. “Sometimes, it’s hard to connect with other kids,” Lilly says quietly, looking down for the first time in a three- hour interview. But it never deters them, they simply repurpose the situation. They started a book club at school to find other kids who share their literary love. “We did it for something to do during recess,” Audrey says.
Lilly adds, “It was nice to know some kids would read at lunch instead of playing kick-ball.”
Identically charming and uncannily photogenic, Audrey and Lilly are hard to tell apart, until you get to know them. Lilly is the sensitive one, but she’s all heart, more likely to hug you than shake your hand. She’s also fiercely protective of her mother. When Tina says she’s just a “home cook,” Lilly gasps.
“You are not, Mom, you’re a really good chef,” she insists.
“No, Lilly, chefs are trained professionals,” Tina replies.
“Mom, you’re SUCH a good chef, you make the BEST curry,” Lilly says, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck.
Audrey is more theatrical, prone to big hand gestures and facial expressions that command attention. She also swings political, effortless in sharing her opinions on the quality of school lunches, how food is marketed to children and the importance of checking nutrition labels. When I mention the Congressional discussion about whether tomato sauce on pizza counts as a serving of vegetables in school cafeterias, Audrey’s eyes just about bulge out of her head.
“Pizza is NOT a vegetable,” she declares, throwing her hands up for emphasis.
It’s in moments like this when Tina steps in, eager to protect her children from any potential criticism. “We try to keep everything positive,” she reminds Audrey, before turning to me. “We don’t want them to come off as controversial. That’s not who they are. They just want to inspire kids to eat healthier.”
With as much attention as these girls have already gotten, you’d think it would be dangerously easy for them to fall prey to Kitchen Diva Syndrome, with backstage riders as long as they are tall. Not so. Their star quality shines in the compassion they lavish on everyone they meet, from waiters to celebrated chefs to reporters. After learning that I’m pseudo-vegan, the twins instantly and over-enthusiastically apologize for ordering meat. Lilly scours the menu for something we can share. “Are you vegan or vegetarian?” she asks, her brow furrowed in concentration.
The girls are cute, indisputably, and that’s certainly part of their appeal. But their sweetness isn’t saccharine, it’s not put on. Making eggnog French toast with a national television host, they stay professional despite his overt fawning. Lilly coaches him as he clumsily places the battered bread on the grill, giving clear instructions in a firm voice. “You’ll want to leave it on the grill for about three minutes,” she explains, “that’s how you get that beautiful crunch.”
The girls plate their dish while the host cracks wise. Always eager to be taken seriously, they stay focused, maintaining their sweetly enduring demeanor without becoming silly. Audrey carefully stacks the toast in a tower, adding fresh fruit and a mint sprig for color. “You always want to give your dish a little bit of height,” she explains with a smile.
Over lunch, I fixate on the visual metaphor that the world is literally their oyster. There will be cookbooks, of course, television shows and, who knows, their own restaurants, But that’s just their résumé. While their passion and growing prowess may eventually make them kitchen queens, their sweet natures and gentle hearts will be their lasting legacy.
Catch up with Lilly and Audrey at twinchefs.com.