A teacher-turned-food-blogger, 'Preppy Kitchen's' John Kanell compares cooking to math: 'To succeed in either, you need to be prepared and have the right tools'

·4 min read
John Kanell, the food blogger behind Preppy Kitchen, says his husband, Brian, loves a controversial pizza topping: pineapple. (Photo: John Kanell; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
John Kanell, the food blogger behind Preppy Kitchen, says his husband, Brian, loves a controversial pizza topping: pineapple. (Photo: John Kanell; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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With three million Preppy Kitchen YouTube subscribers and over a million Instagram followers, John Kanell has made it his life's mission to bring fresh, family-friendly recipes home for everyone to enjoy together.

In his new cookbook, Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Dishes and Simple Pleasures, Kanell compiles favorite dishes he, his 5-year-old twins, George and Lachlan, and his husband, Brian, make together.

The family lives on a farm in Connecticut, so seasonality and farm-fresh ingredients are always on the menu. Kanell cites pizza night as a favorite weekend activity, starting with making the dough from scratch, then adding sauce, cheese and favorite toppings. "For Brian," says Kanell, "it's extra pineapple. That's it. The boys like it plain and I like olives, mushrooms and peppers."

Snacking is also seasonal at Kanell's house. In summer, he goes to the garden and picks whatever is ready and ripe — like tomatoes and fresh herbs — and pairs them with cheese and nuts to nosh on while he's behind the stove. In winter, it's all about creamy macaroni and cheese and stews packed with braised, tender root vegetables. He's also partial to a yogurt parfait between meals, preferably thick Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr, packed with fresh fruit, granola and nuts.

While Kanell's family-style cooking propels his culinary social media fame, it didn't come from out of nowhere. He grew up cooking at his Mexican mother's side. "I always say I'm a mom-taught chef," he says. "We didn't go to restaurants because my mother was always making these beautiful three-course meals. She grew up in a small village in Mexico with fresh ingredients and everything made from scratch."

Kanell says the most important lesson for him in the kitchen was having faith in his own abilities and taking joy from experimentation. "You find new things, you try them out, you see what works and you learn if it doesn't," he says.

This attitude springs not just from his years cooking with his mother, but also from his previous career teaching middle school math and science, which he did for more than 10 years. His experience as a teacher informs the way he approaches cooking: A watch of just one of his recipe videos on YouTube gives some insight into this, as he explains the scientific reasons behind weighing ingredients exactly, shares what might happen if you don't follow baking directions to the letter and offers other detailed — but approachable — tidbits you can impress friends with while they watch the magic come together in your kitchen.

"Math anxiety is like cooking anxiety," says Kanell. "To succeed in either, you need to be prepared and have the right tools. For cooking, that includes having the right ingredients and reading the recipe thoroughly."

"You can experience success, love what you're doing and have a joyful time in the kitchen," he adds.

Letting kids experiment, discover and learn is the key to getting them active in cooking and helping in the kitchen, he says. "A lot of parents worry their children might not have the fine motor control to help," says Kanell. "Start by having them help measure things out: If they can dump sand into a pail at the beach, they can dump a scoop of flour into a bowl."

Kanell also suggests having kids whisk and mix ingredients together with a spoon from the very start. "You just pre-measure things out for them and they can take the recipe from there," he says. Kanell suggests trying "stir-together" recipes first — like pancakes and cornbread — where there's no machinery involved for little fingers to get stuck.

Why is getting your kids involved in the kitchen important? Kanell says it's essential to showing them where their food comes from and making them knowledgeable about what they're eating. "They feel like they're part of the family unit," he tells Yahoo Life, "not just accepting food but helping prepare it. Kids love feeling like they've helped."

In fact, that's the reason he and his husband moved to their farm in the first place. "We wanted our kids to have a better connection to the land," he explains. "We wanted them to have their own vegetable plot where they could choose which vegetables to plant and tend to and harvest them. That's valuable to us, and we hope it will grow to be valuable to them as well."

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