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Tiny Onion Cooking School: Kids in the kitchen

Aug 1st, 2018 | Category: Cooking

by Mary Vermillion

Annalee Dunn’s mom was not a great cook. A single mother raising four girls, she didn’t give much thought to what was for dinner. “A lot of beans and rice,” Dunn recalled. “There was not much variety; it was just not her thing.” Growing up in Ithaca, NY, Dunn and her sisters taught themselves to cook. Their Italian-American grandmother inspired them with packages of from-scratch pasta sauces, jams and biscotti. “She gave me that curiosity into cooking from scratch,” Dunn said. From those early days experimenting in the kitchen grew a culinary career that now includes her Bellingham business, the Tiny Onion Cooking School, where – as she did in her own youth – kids are learning kitchen basics that may feed a life-long love of simple, fresh food.

Analee Dunn guides students during a pastry arts class. “When you make food together, the natural outcome is exploring, creating something. Adults may be more focused on technique. For kids, it’s the experience,” she said. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Analee Dunn guides students during a pastry arts class. “When you make food together, the natural outcome is exploring, creating something. Adults may be more focused on technique. For kids, it’s the experience,” she said. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Dunn’s first culinary job was at the famous Moosewood Restaurant in her hometown of Ithaca. After graduating from culinary school and working in high-end kitchens on the East Coast and in Phoenix, she moved sight unseen to Bellingham 17 years ago. Now, she is a manager and cook at Old Town Café and, as of late 2015, the owner of the Tiny Onion Cooking School.

Tiny Onion began when a former Old Town Café co-worker asked Dunn to teach culinary basics to her teenage son and his friends. “She knew they were going off to college one day, and they didn’t know anything about cooking,” Dunn recalled. “How would they survive?” Dunn loved the experience and decided to offer more classes. Tiny Onion Cooking School was born. She created a website, made space in her home kitchen, and received the approval from the health department to offer classes.

Word quickly spread. She receives two to three inquires a week from parents whose children may already be cooking a bit at home or, as Dunn said, have “never used a can opener.” Her website lists upcoming sessions. Repeat customers are common. She also teaches private classes for families and groups. Current offerings include summer cooking camps, monthly baking and pastry arts sessions for kids ages 12-19, an after-school snack program for children ages 8-12, and – a nod to the need that started it all – a Monday night teen/tween class where students learn basic cooking techniques and taste cuisines from around the world. Classes taught at her home are limited to six students. Dunn also teaches popular cooking classes for kids through the Community Food Co-op.

The classes are hands on and casual. At a recent pastry arts session, four students – ages 11-14 – and Dunn’s 4-year-old daughter, Oona (wearing a pink leotard and tutu), sat on stools in Dunn’s sunny, open kitchen. They measured flour and cut butter, learning the steps for a basic pie crust. Pints of local berries sat on a nearby counter for the blueberry muffins and fruit bars the students would bake. In a calm and encouraging style, Dunn shared tips like why cold water is critical for a pie crust and a time-saving step to achieve it – keep a glass jar in the freezer and add water to it. Then, she asked, why do we need to keep the butter cold? As her students nodded their heads knowingly, Dunn explained the butter must melt between the flour layers to create a perfect, flaky crust.

In addition to technique, Dunn teaches her students about food origins, sharing with them the stories of the farms that grew the local ingredients. Many of her recipes are vegetarian, but if meat is part of the meal, the class will discuss sustainable farming and fishing. She often focuses on seasonal elements and introduces her young students to new ingredients. “In a group setting, they’re more likely to take a risk and try something they’ve never had before,” Dunn said.

She added, “When you make food together, the natural outcome is exploring, creating something. Adults may be more focused on technique. For kids, it’s the experience.”

Dunn, who also teaches at the Alger Learning Center, creates an environment where students feel safe taking risks. “As a parent, I see a lot of parents around me who are afraid of letting kids make a mess,” she said. “I have the space to do that. Busy parents don’t have time for that. When you allow it, when they are able to do it on their own and make a mess and learn, they feel empowered. When their parents pick them up, it all comes bubbling out.”

Her long-range goal is to move the classes to a professional kitchen. She’s writing a business plan now with the vision of a community kitchen and large classroom space. For now, Dunn hopes her students learn a bit about food, cooking and nutrition and the joy that comes from sharing food with friends. “As a teacher, I know that tactical, social experiences are important,” she said. Gathering people around the table, she said, feels great.

For more information, visit In addition to classes for young people, she offers cooking classes for adults and families. Dunn shares updates via Tiny Onion’s Facebook page and an e-newsletter. 


Fruit Pie Bars



For the shortbread crust: 

2 1/2 cups flour

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

For the Filling:

2 cups fresh berries

2 cups berry jam

1 pie crust (recipe at right)

1 egg



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a 9×13 inch baking dish with foil or parchment or spray with cooking spray and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. With forks or a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter to make a crumbly mix. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 15-18 minutes. Until it’s lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the jam and the berries and stir gently. Spread the berry mix over the shortbread crust.

Roll the pie crust out and gently place over the berry mix, or cut into long strips to create a lattice topping.

Brush with an egg wash, bake for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is golden and brown. Slice and serve!


Fresh Berry Muffins



2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 cups flour

1 cup sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt

1 pint fresh berries



Preheat oven to 400 degree. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the oil with a whisk. Then add the milk and oil and mix well.

Add the flour all at once, and stir with a fork briefly. It will be lumpy and crumbly.

Pour the sugar over the top of the mixture, sprinkle on the baking powder and salt. Stir gently, not overmixing!

Add the berries and gently fold them in.

Scoop the batter into the muffin papers, sprinkle tops with sugar, and bake for about 20 minutes, until they are golden and fluffy.


Basic Pie Crust



2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 sticks butter, cold and cut into small pieces

6-8 Tablespoons ice water



In a food processor, or by hand in a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, sugar, and cold butter together to a crumbly mixture. Add the water and process or stir just until it comes together. Set in refrigerator while you prepare your pie filling.


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