On May 3, ChopChop, a Watertown-based quarterly children’s cooking magazine, surprised the food world by winning the James Beard award for publication of the year. “It’s amazing and it’s been great to get that kind of acknowledgement,” says founder and president Sally Sampson. “You wouldn’t even think we’d be in the running.” Sampson, an author of 22 cookbooks who has contributed to the Boston Globe, launched ChopChopKids in 2010 with the goal of teaching children and parents to cook healthfully. While initially aiming to distribute solely through pediatricians during well-child visits, the magazine is now a fixture at food banks, schools, and medical offices, with an international circulation of about 2 million copies each year. Sampson says ChopChop is in roughly 50 percent of pediatricians’ offices. Last year, the nonprofit started a workshop at Harvard and it’s aiming to publish a magazine for a younger audience called ChopChop Jr.
Q. What kind of an impact will this award have on the magazine’s influence?
A. We consider ChopChop to be in three arenas: food, kid, and medical. We are endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. We won a Parents’ Choice [magazine] award. So now we’ve won really great acknowledgement from each industry. So it’s huge. I think the James Beard award gets us to people who otherwise didn’t know about us. And they’re really paying attention to the food, the quality of the recipes, and it’s really great to be acknowledged for that.
Q. The James Beard committee singled out your “lively” website, www.chopchop
mag.com, as an important resource for families. What was your strategy there?
A. We just relaunched it. The timing could not have been better. It relaunched the same Friday as the James Beard award dinner. A fair amount goes into [planning the website]. Our site is not for kids, so we don’t have a website that kids can go to and really play. After all, sitting at computers is what contributes to the obesity epidemic. So we purposely made a website that’s not interactive for kids. It’s really to go and get recipes and to find out what our organization is about and to learn about our sponsors. So it’s not really your typical kids website; it’s focused more on parents.
Q. What kinds of stories run in the magazine?
A. We don’t really have stories in the magazine, we have recipes. So what we try to do is take a recipe and bring it down to its most simple and then explain something that’s interesting about it. So let’s say it’s hummus. We might say, Oh, well, it’s really interesting because you could do hummus with a bunch of different kinds of beans, or we might say, hummus is spelled differently in different places, or you can make this in a food processor or you can make this by hand but it’s not going to be the same. Basically what we try to do is find something about the recipe that’s interesting in order to bring in a kid. [Each issue], we come up with a theme and then work around that. The fall issue is “How to pack a lunch box,” so every single thing in there is lunchbox-ready. The dessert is banana applesauce so that can go into a little container. We have two soups; those can go into thermoses. Everything works around the theme.
Q. Your organization is issuing its first cookbook. Give us some details.
A. It’s called “ChopChop: The Kids Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family.” We’re teaching what we think are essential recipes for kids and families to know. We’re teaching building blocks. The magazine generally has 12 recipes and they’re not necessarily related, whereas here we’re saying, OK, here’s the most basic soup recipe you can make; now if you do these few things to it you’re making it a little more complicated, and if you do these few things to it you’re making it that much more complicated. Basically, if you can make the first piece then you can keep going. So we teach how to make the most basic chicken soup and then we give maybe eight different ways [to elaborate], which we call “Fancy That.” So you add lemon, it’s a lemony chicken soup, you add curry, it’s a curried chicken soup, you add tortillas, it’s Mexican. Then we teach how to make matzo balls, and then if you take out the chicken and you add more vegetables, it becomes a vegetable soup. If you add beans to it, now it becomes a bean soup. So it’s more building blocks.