Isabella Gerasole had a childhood most of us could only dream about. The Communications freshman entered Northwestern this year with television appearances, awards and a published book under her belt. Her résumé sets her apart from many other high achievers on campus.
It all started when a neighbor approached 9-year-old Gerasole and her 7-year-old sister about filming cooking shows.
Their neighbor worked on documentary films, and she thought it would be a great idea to create a show about kids teaching other kids how to cook. The woman had good timing, Gerasole says. She and her sister had no objections.
“My sister was so cute. I was kind of cute. [The neighbor] got me right before I went into my supreme-awkward stage,” says Gerasole, an Evanston native.
The sisters’ love of food seems to run in the family. Their dad used to be a food reporter, and their grandparents own a restaurant in Pittsburgh called Girasole. The girls began filming webcasts online and called the website spatulatta.com.
Making the Big Time
One year later, in 2006, Gerasole’s dad entered the cooking webcasts into the running for a nomination for the James Beard Foundation awards, the highest honor for professionals in North America’s culinary world and one of the biggest gastronomic events of the year. The Gerasole sisters won the award for the “Webcast” category. That year marked the first time the James Beard Foundation gave recognition in that category.
Then, in 2007, Scholastic contacted the two Gerasoles about making a cookbook containing all the best recipes for kids. The Spatulatta Cookbook was geared toward promoting healthful child-friendly recipes, and the two sisters would take to trips to libraries and local Boys & Girls Clubs to promote wholesome food choices.
Spatulatta’s success opened opportunities for Gerasole and her sister, as they began to appear on The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View and local television stations. American Girl magazine even ran a feature about the girls, and they made it into newspapers like USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.
“We woke up one morning and our dad had gone down to get the paper and he started screaming. We were like ‘Oh my God, someone’s killing him!'” Gerasole says. “We were in the paper.”
Her parents still keep copies of the newspapers by the dozen today.
Not Just From a Box
All the attention didn’t really affect Gerasole’s social life at her small Catholic school. Some students were surprised to find out that one of their peers was semi-famous. But experience in the spotlight did motivate her to pursue a career in the arts, she says. She’s now a theatre major.
“That’s the time that solidified it, when I knew I wanted to be a performer,” Gerasole says.
The sisters decided to end Spatulatta last summer. Right now, Gerasole’s full schedule keeps her busy, so she hasn’t been logging much time in the kitchen. But she wants to get back in touch with her culinary side. Cooking offers a great chance to display love for others, she says.
Even though her Spatulatta days are over, Gerasole has good memories from creating the webcasts. She says she liked how Spatulatta let her meet children who were enthusiastic about food. The site also taught kids about the variety of possibilities for making it.
“The real great thing is talking to kids and seeing how excited they get about food,” Gerasole says. “Our producer always told us, ‘I want them to know that food doesn’t just come from a box.’ And that was our mission.”