They sit — not so still – on the living room sofa watching TV before they come to the table to gobble up the sweet circles. Rocky, their 13-year-old dog, a pug-beagle mix, eyes them enviously.
Their mother, Kim Calichio is a former chef who has made it her mission to make food a positive experience for not only her family but also for yours.
She and her husband, Chef Omar Bravo-Pavia, have opposite work schedules, and the one meal they all get to share is breakfast.
“It’s always a hot meal,” says Kim. “Lucas and Thiago have never had cold cereal as an option. At dinner, Omar can’t be with us, but the rest of us always sit down at the table to eat.”
Kim, who grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, has had an affinity for healthy food since childhood.
“I used to watch my Irish grandmother cook for my Italian grandfather, and I started making my own snacks and salads,” she says, adding that she didn’t think anything of spending a half hour making a tomato salad with fresh mozzarella.
This occurred in large part because she had to fend for herself. Her parents, who she says are recovering alcoholics, divorced and started to sober up when she was 6.
“I had to be an adult really fast,” she says. “I was the oldest, and I separated myself and did my own thing.”
That happened to be eating really good meals.
“We didn’t have fancy food,” she says, “because we didn’t have a ton of money. My mother didn’t do a lot of cooking – she worked full time. So I learned to cook for myself because I wanted to eat well.”
Betty Crocker proved to be an adept teacher. Soon, Kim was making jelly rolls and German chocolate cakes.
Kim got her first job, a weekend shift at a bagel shop, when she was 14.
“It was the energy and the environment of food service that I connected with,” she says.
Given her taste for the culinary arts, it was surprising that Kim didn’t pursue the subject in college. Instead, she earned a degree in psychology from Stony Brook University.
She did, however, cook her way through her courses. She found time for meal preparation even though she was working and going to school full time.
“It was the first time I made full meals, and it was the first time I had lived away from my parents,” she says.
When Kim graduated, she decided to take a year off but only from school. She continued in her full-time position as the manager of a medical office that had five clinics.
She thought she would go back to school, but she got all fired up about cooking while she was reading Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.”
“I wanted to be there – I was attracted to the chaos and grunge,” she says.
She went to a waterfront seafood restaurant on Long Island and practically begged for a job in the kitchen.
“When the chef left, it was just me,” she says. “I bought a textbook from the culinary institute and experimented with the recipes. I made my own specials, and people really liked my food.”
She still sounds surprised when she says this.
A year and a half later, she landed a trial run at David Burke & Donatella on the Upper East Side.
“They offered me a job that was 60 hours a week for $600,” she says, smiling. “I was OK with that. For a time, I was commuting from Lindenhurst, which was two and a half hours each way. All I was doing was sleeping and working.”
And falling in love – Omar was a sous-chef there.
She advanced rapidly in the nearly five years she worked there, becoming the only woman to work on the hot line.
“The first night I was on the fish line, hot oil splattered all over my hand,” she says. “It was very busy, so I kept working and didn’t tell anyone. I had to prove myself. I ended up going to the hospital.”
When she and her healed hand returned a couple weeks later, she was offered a sous-chef position at David Burke Fishtail.
“Omar and I ran the restaurant as executive sous-chefs,” she says, adding that that’s when they started dating. “It was an amazing time.”
Kim worked until she was eight and a half months pregnant with Lucas.
“I kept telling everybody that I was coming back after the birth,” she says.
But things didn’t quite work out as the expectant mother expected.
When she returned after a six-month leave, there was a new chef and a new team.
“I was at the bottom,” she says. “I had left at the top. To get back to my previous status, I would have had to prove myself all over again.”
A year later, she left the restaurant business.
“But after two years of staying home and playing trains, I was going crazy,” she says. “And money was really tight with only one paycheck – we had been on public assistance for a time. But the cost of child care was too high for me to work.”
So she started conducting cooking classes and in 2015 founded The Connected Chef, whose goal, she says, is “to ensure that parents and kids have the opportunity to develop a positive and joyful relationship with food.”
Kim says that The Connected Chef, which offers classes for children and adults, is “bigger than just cooking. It’s about some difficult lifestyle changes and going against the messages we get from society. It’s about learning to connect with our family and our environment through food.”
Her work began with Lucas and Thiago. Lucas, who has proved himself competent with a chef’s knife, has started to make salads. One of his favorites is cucumbers with lime and salt.
Thiago, who still uses a child’s knife, helps Kim with stovetop stirring.
When it comes to pancakes, though, what they really like to do is eat them.
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling