The power of two
Mar./Apr. 2013 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Jennifer Harrison
Photos by Meg Smith
Twin 11-year-old chefs promote fresh food and healthy eating.
More online: Step-by-step recipe
On a bright, sunny morning, two shoppers stand out among the crowds at the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers' Market. Together, they search for crookneck squash, spinach, basil and eggs, but get sidetracked sampling fresh fruit and chatting with the farmers.
Identical twins Lilly, left, and Audrey Andrews became interested in cooking as toddlers and are now avid chefs. They have demonstrated their culinary skills on Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show and have met many well-known chefs, such as Food Network host Bob Blumer, who signed their chef's coats.
What's different is that these two shoppers are 11-year-old identical twins. Audrey and Lilly Andrews, known as the Twin Chefs, are on a mission to encourage healthy eating and farm-fresh food for children and adults alike. They also promote a message of "one family, one meal," meaning kids and adults should eat the same thing during family meals.
This is not a new idea for the pair; they've been cooking for most of their lives.
"Audrey and I got really interested in cooking at 3 or 4 years old," Lilly explained. "We were always really into food, but that is when it started to blossom."
Mother Tina Schultheiss vividly remembers driving around Sonoma one day as the twins, still in car seats, debated the flavor of a yogurt parfait.
"They were having the biggest argument eating the yogurt," she recalled. "One said it had lemon zest and one said it had orange extract. This is a little bit out of the norm. That they even knew the word 'extract' was crazy to me."
The girls' knowledge of food stems from an unlikely source: the fear of cartoons.
"We were really scared of cartoons," Audrey said. "We'd beg and cry and ask our older sister, Kathryn, to change the channel."
Desperate to cook dinner with three young girls under foot, Schultheiss switched the TV to the Food Network. Her toddlers were hooked.
"The interesting thing is that my older daughter didn't tune into that at all, but the twins were just riveted," Schultheiss said.
The twins have been riveted ever since.
"They've tried ballet, they've tried soccer and it always comes back to cooking," Schultheiss said.
Lilly, left, and Audrey grew up going to the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers' Market and today buy many of their ingredients there.
The first thing they made? Pumpkin muffins.
"We'd always get into the kitchen, mix around with spices, just have tons of fun," Lilly said.
Speaking of spices, her twin is so obsessed with one that it landed on her holiday wish list a few years ago.
"I love saffron," Audrey laughed. "I asked for saffron for Christmas."
One of the priciest spices around, saffron comes from the dried yellow stigmas of the purple crocus and has a strong, earthy flavor often used in Asian cuisine. The fact that it was an item on Audrey's wish list gives an indication of the Twin Chefs' enthusiasm for food, which starts with farm-fresh ingredients. At home, they grow an array of things.
"Twelve tomato plants, beans, peas, basil, thyme and lemon verbena for tea," they rattle off, partially in unison and partially by finishing each other's sentences.
The girls enjoy visiting with local farmers in the process.
Back at the farmers market, the girls connect with the makers of Capay Gold Olive Oil, search for fresh basil and onions from Oak Hill Farm, buy squash from Paul's Produce and talk beef with the folks at True Grass Farms.
They've worked the land, too. At Green String Farm, a 140-acre farm in Petaluma, they spent a day on the land, learning about the farm and contributing to the farm's internship program.
"We got to make food and cook for them," Lilly said.
When it comes to the cooking, the girls do receive formal instruction.
"I'm not a pro chef," Schultheiss said. "It is the same if I were to search out a music teacher. In the case of the kitchen, my main focus is if they were going to do this, they had to have all the safety skills down."
The family turned to local chefs Charles Holmes and Elizabeth Eckholt for help. Eckholt introduced them to the French concept of mise en place—everything in its place in the kitchen, for efficiency and safety. Then they began chopping.
"They started with a serrated paring knife and graduated to real chef knives," Eckholt said. "They know the rhythm of chopping. They can get the task done really fast."
While they can make something like a traditional French chocolate mousse, the girls prefer savory over sweet.
"Some of my favorite things are sweetbreads and veal tongue," Lilly said. In identical-twin fashion, Audrey also likes these adventurous eats (sweetbreads are organ meats), but adds spicy foods to her list of favorites. The girls favor fresh ingredients over processed foods, and make Brussels sprouts and carrots on a regular basis. They grew up eating things like boeuf bourguignon, a traditional French dish similar to beef stew.
Farm-fresh ingredients are a must for any Twin Chefs recipe.
"Our family always cooked one meal," Lilly said. "There wasn't like just chicken nuggets for the kids and then maybe something different for grownups."
To communicate this "one family, one meal" message to a wider audience and to highlight healthier recipes, the family created a website (www.twinchefs.com).
"They are poised to make an impact on a generation of young kids who are really interested in food," Eckholt said.
People are taking notice. The girls often speak about healthy eating and California agriculture at harvest festivals and schools. They have been on larger stages, too—the likes of Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. They are now collaborating with Cuties California Mandarins to promote the fruit. They are aware of the national childhood obesity epidemic and hope their message resonates with kids.
"They are hearing from a child just like them," Audrey said. "I think that is really what connects to kids."
The Twin Chefs plan to take classes at a culinary school for adults in Sonoma and have an ultimate goal of attending culinary school abroad. (Lilly wants to study in France, while Audrey has her eye on Japan.) After that, they dream of opening restaurants and continuing to promote their love of fresh food.
"Becoming healthy can be super fun and super easy," Audrey said with an enthusiastic, 11-year-old grin. Lilly couldn't agree more.
In the kitchen with Audrey and Lilly
The Twin Chefs like this springtime recipe because it mimics the look of a nest. It also incorporates one of their favorite foods: spinach.