Sacramento second-grader's healthy food app sprouts success
06/03/2013 12:00 AM
09/23/2013 8:09 AM
Whether it's flipping crepes or evaluating recipes, Nicolas Come is a determined second-grader. He wants to convince all kids that they can eat healthier.
"He's extremely focused," said Stephane Come of his 8-year-old son. "One night, he picked up my laptop, put it in front of me and said, 'We're starting this right now!' "
And Nicolas' Garden was born.
The brainchild of young Nicolas, his virtual Garden is both a recipe website and a mobile application devoted to cooking by kids for kids. Released in late May, the Nicolas' Garden app allows the whole family to share healthy recipes, cooking tips, shopping lists and more in a fun, kid-friendly format (www.NicolasGarden.com).
"I told my dad I wanted to share information with my friends," Nicolas said. "I wanted to do (something) about fruit and vegetables and healthy eating."
From his own Orangevale kitchen, Nicolas' Garden sprouted like the proverbial beanstalk and is spreading rapidly via traditional and social media.
Nicolas Come (rhymes with "home") is his own best spokesman. His enthusiasm quickly caught the attention of both professional chefs and software engineers, who helped make his Garden a reality.
"I was a picky eater," Nicolas explained. "All I would eat basically was bread and pizza. But not anymore."
A longtime software designer with his own company, Stephane Come knew how to nurture his son's dream. "My role in this is just to support him," he said. "We have no TV (at home); we talk instead."
And they cook together, too. A former sous chef, Stephane Come wanted to inspire his sons in the kitchen. Both Nicolas and his 6-year-old brother, Remy, regularly help out.
To tempt their children to eat more vegetables, Stephane and his wife, Criss Come, started a backyard garden.
"We grew a garden and I started trying new things," Nicolas said. "I'm still picky, but not that picky. And I like a lot of new things."
As the boys' interest in food and cooking grew, the Comes sought out child-size utensils, aprons and tools. All they could find was pink.
"And it was made more for dress-up – like frilly ruffled pink aprons – than to really cook with," Stephane said. "We had to make our own aprons."
Frustrating Web-savvy Nicolas, they also couldn't find kid-friendly online sources that he could use. He wanted recipes he could cook himself (or with a little help) and to share favorites with children his age.
"There were plenty of websites and apps for parents to share recipes or healthy eating tips, but not kid to kid," Stephane explained.
With his dad's help, Nicolas pitched his idea to a larger audience: The Hacker Lab in downtown Sacramento. Free to participants, the lab brings together local engineers, designers and creative people to tackle start-up projects. With both paper and iPad, Nicolas sketched out how he wanted his app to work and how his website should look.
"I pitched my idea to about 100 people," Nicolas said . "I got five members for my team right away."
Drisha Leggitt of Possibility Media Group is one of those volunteers.
"Nicolas sat me down, looked me in the eye and said, 'Let me tell you about my idea,' " Leggitt said. "He has a very specific vision. Nicolas really wants to lead the kid side of the farm-to-fork movement in Sacramento. He's introducing his part of the world – other kids – to that idea."
Also volunteering were Steve Simonetto of LCS Technologies, Tim Dement of AppMatrix and Leggitt's partners, Tracy Saville and Lori Anderson. In addition, Sacramento chefs Kurt Spataro of the Paragary Restaurant Group and Adam Pechal of Tuli Bistro and Thir13n offered their help to the project.
All have been impressed with Nicolas' dedication to the project.
"If it was a different child, I might be concerned," said Criss Come. "But with Nicolas, he's so driven. He sees something and he wants it to be the way he wants it to be. This has been a wonderful thing for him to work on."
Less than six months after that Hacker Lab pitch, Nicolas' Garden made its debut as a free downloadable application online. Featuring about 150 recipes and growing, the app had more than 2,000 downloads its first week.
The age-appropriate interface includes many features designed with kids in mind. Young cooks can see photos of each step of the process, so they know what a dish should look like as it's cooked and assembled. "Cooking" is presented as a family activity; adult assistance accompanies any use of knives or heat.
Nicolas' Garden already has received international attention. Nicolas did an interview with the Times of India. With his family on Memorial Day weekend, he flew to New York City for a live appearance on "FOX & Friends Saturday."
"It was fun!" he said. "I really really liked the Empire State Building. It was so windy!"
For his national television debut, Nicolas insisted on bringing his own tools and supplies.
"We were running through the airport and he had a backpack bigger than he was," said Leggitt. "It was full of utensils, knives, spices, aprons, T-shirts; we checked the knives, of course."
Once in New York, Nicolas needed a place to practice his recipe.
"I had a panic attack," Stephane Come said. "How were we going to find him a kitchen?"
A few emails later, they were cooking at chef collaborative Kitchensurfing.com's Brooklyn headquarters.
"Everybody dropped everything to help Nicolas," Leggitt said. "It really was amazing how the tech community and the restaurant community went out of their way to welcome Nicolas."
The adults saw a boy on a mission they shared, she added.
"Kids are only going to embrace the healthy eating message in the way they want to see it," Leggitt said. "That's digitally."
For live TV, he cooked his Nicolas' California Sunshine chicken curry, a recipe he created for Michelle Obama's Healthy Lunchtime Recipe Contest. Winners from each state will be invited to a "kids' state dinner" at the White House.
Nicolas hopes his Garden can draw the attention of the first lady – "and the first girls" – so he can add their favorite recipes to his website and app, he said. He also would like to interview other young cooks and get their recipes and tips online.
His favorite recipe is the first he learned: Dad's Tomato Sauce. But he's also gotten adept at making crepes and other more complicated dishes.
"Every recipe has a secret ingredient," Nicolas explained. "That makes it special. (With the app), you can see the recipes step by step so you know what it's supposed to look like while you make it.
"I put my seal of approval on recipes," he added. "That means it's healthy and I like it."
The best part of Nicolas' Garden? Said little brother Remy, "It's been real yummy!"
Find Nicolas' Garden
To see Nicolas Come's recipes and find out more about his app, click on www.nicolasgarden.com. The mobile application is available for free download at the iPhone App Store and Google Play.
Recipe: Vanilla crepes
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
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