NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Combining an entrepreneurial spirit, love for cooking, and passion for inspiring children has led Julie Burleson to a unique franchise creation, the Young Chefs Academy (YCA).

“Our vision is to make a positive, lasting impact on children’s lives through teaching the joy and value of cooking,” said Burleson, the founder and CEO of YCA.

Burleson, a mother and entrepreneur, said the idea of YCA came to her in 2003 while working in the kitchen for a different business she was running, and her son was trying to help.

“It was that literal lightbulb moment,” Burleson continued. “Like, ‘Wow! A cooking school for children,’ and it just combined all of my passions for wanting to make a difference and family and families and kids’ lives.”

The first YCA was opened in Waco, Texas in 2004. Now, there are more than 30 locations across 14 states.

Burleson hopes Tennessee becomes the 15th state to offer YCA with the goal of expanding over the next few years in three locations near Nashville.

“We’re always looking for owners who are just passionate that share the same passion as us and are excited about what we’re doing and about our mission,” said Burleson. The school aims to expand children’s culinary knowledge, promote teamwork, and build self-confidence.

Young Chef Gavin
Young Chef Gavin Lundquist, YCA student (Courtesy of Jenny Lundquist)

Gavin Lundquist has been on the receiving end of that mission for over a year now.

“We get to hang out with friends and make new friends, and it helps me build confidence. And, it’s really fun,” he said.

The 11-year-old young chef takes classes at the franchise in The Woodlands, Texas. His mom signed him up for lessons because he loved cooking with his grandma, and this gave him a new outlet to express himself.

“I just loved it, so I kept coming.”

The culinary school offers classes for kids as young as 5 through teenagers. Group parties and camps are also available to book.

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“We teach real cooking and real culinary skills, so it’s that’s what I believe really differentiates us from any other program,” said Burleson.

Burleson put Gavin on the spot asking, “What does mise en place mean, Gavin?”

He answered correctly: “Everything in its place.”

Gavin added he loves getting to try the food he makes in class and has even cooked his favorite recipe outside the classroom. 

“For my grandpa’s memorial, I made the meatloaf,” he continued. “Everyone said it was really flavorful and juicy.”

Burleson said both of her children went through the YCA program, and she hopes to bring the YCA values to Nashville.

Burleson family
Burleson family (Courtesy of Julie Burleson, founder of Young Chefs Academy)

“It’s a growing city; it really fits our criteria in terms of families and children. But, I just personally love Nashville,” she said, adding that her daughter, who attended Belmont University, still lives in the area.

Applications are still be accepted for anyone interested in starting a YCA franchise. To learn more about the process, follow this link.

To learn more about YCA, click here.