An Interview with Chad Chenail, Producer, and Staff Writer, America’s Test Kitchen Kids By Jodi Murphy
Just like their parents, kids are deeply engaged in listening to podcasts so it’s important that their podcasts are inclusive so every child can hear themselves in the stories they listen to.
Chad Chenail is a content creator for kids and families. He’s produced some of the most popular podcasts for kids including Chompers from Gimlet Media and Girl Tales from Cordelia Studios. In his work for America’s Test Kitchen Kids, he’s developed a YouTube series and has written a picture book, “Mitsy The Oven Mitt Goes to School: A Story About Being Brave,” that was released this fall.
Chad is also the producer and staff writer for America’s Test Kitchen Kids “Mystery Recipe Podcast.” In this interview, he talks about Mystery Recipe and the inclusion of an autistic character, “Greg the Cheese Grater” in Season 3.
Can you give us an overview of Mystery Recipe Podcast and how it came about?
Mystery Recipe is a podcast from America’s Test Kitchen Kids for kids ages 5-12. It’s about where food and fun collide, filled with culinary trivia, techniques, and food science with a healthy portion of fiction, storytelling, and emotional literacy.
America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ goal is to empower the next generation of home chefs, and this show helps to do just that. By combining engaging fictional narratives with food science and kitchen technique we hope to inspire kids to get into the kitchen, explore, discover and ask questions. We want food to be fun and educational.
And personally, as a kids’ media maker I know it is a privilege to be able to create children’s media and one that I do not take lightly. As writers and content producers, we have a responsibility to promote kindness and foster empathy, especially now when the world can seem like a divisive and often scary place. And so each season in addition to providing food science and kitchen technique we also focus on social and emotional learning.
“We make sure we are educating and empowering our young chefs about how to be a good friend and a kind neighbor while focusing on representation and creating actively anti-racist content.”
And our listeners are here for it! We have surpassed 1.2 million lifetime downloads, and have no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
What’s the theme of Season 3?
Each season of Mystery Recipe centers around a different mystery recipe! Each week is about a different ingredient, and all the ingredients are used in our grand finale cook along. As we progress through the season listeners keep track of each ingredient in order to guess what our season finale mystery recipe will be.
We won’t tell you what the ingredients or recipe are, because half the fun is listening along and trying to figure it out yourselves. All episodes of season 3 are out now, so go listen and find out for yourselves! And when you’re done, you can always go back to check out seasons one and two. We recommend listening to the episodes in order!
Each season you introduce an intern, and in Season 3, your intern is “Greg the Cheese Grater” – tell us about this character.
We are so excited for listeners to meet Greg the Cheese Grater! He’s clever, loves trivia, and hopes to one day become a food scientist. He’s also on the autism spectrum, and over the course of the season, we spend some time learning what that means. Greg is brought to life by the very talented Jonathan Cormur, and James Sullivan and Geek Club Books also contributed to the development of this character, so huge thanks to them as well!
Listen to a clip featuring “Greg” from the podcast:
Why was it important for Mystery Recipe to feature an autistic character?
It was important for us to feature a character who is on the autism spectrum because children who are on the spectrum exist. As people who choose to spend our careers creating kid’s content, we care very deeply about kids. All kinds of kids. We are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion in the content we are making because when kids consume media they are constantly looking for a reflection of themselves.
“And when children in underrepresented communities, such as children who are on the autism spectrum, never see anyone that looks like them, they may begin to assume that something is wrong with them. We’ve included Greg this season because representation matters.”
Having a character on the spectrum also introduces our listeners to the fact that autism exists, if they did not already know. They may meet someone in their world who is on the autism spectrum and will have a reference point in understanding what that means because we included Greg on our show. The character of Greg is not ABOUT autism. As the series progresses you will find that he has likes, dislikes, dreams, and flaws like any other character you’d meet. Being on the spectrum is a small part of what Greg brings to our listeners.
We would be doing our listeners a disservice if we did not touch on topics like acceptance, kindness, and self-love in the work that we make. It’s not enough to just make a show about cooking when you can also encourage emotional intelligence and community. What we try to do is teach children to love one another in spite of their differences, accept those they meet for who they are, and make it clear to every child that there is a place for them at America’s Test Kitchen Kids.
You hired an autistic scriptwriter to consult with you—we know why that is so important to the autistic community but why was it so important to you as the scriptwriter and producer?
It was super important to me to work with someone on the spectrum in a writing and developmental capacity because as someone who is not on the spectrum, I don’t know what I don’t know.
The goal of this character is two-fold, he is here to educate our listeners about autism, but primarily Greg serves to provide meaningful representation to kids on the spectrum. And so, working with someone on the spectrum from day one on this character allows us to do just that.
James Sullivan was our contributing writer and script consultant, and he did a wonderful job from the very early stages of development. I did not want to come to James with a fully developed and fleshed-out character because as someone who is not autistic, I don’t have the necessary experiences to understand who Greg is and how his mind works. If I developed the character on my own, he would have ended up as an inauthentic amalgamation of stereotypes and misconceptions, regardless of my intentions and the research I put into it. By starting at the beginning with James, working with him to establish what Greg wants, likes, and dislikes and what the goals of the character would be, Greg could become a more well-rounded and authentic character. Greg would be able to better represent the autism community because he came from the autism community, thanks to James and all his hard work and insight.
You also chose a neurodiverse voice actor to voice Greg, what did he bring to the character?
Jonathan Cormur, the actor who brings Greg to life on the show, brought SO much to Greg! He was so generous in sharing his reactions to the subject matter in the script and suggesting topics for us to include. As we know autism is a spectrum, and so when portraying an autistic character, it is impossible to encompass that entire spectrum all at once. What Jonathan brought to the character was his specific lived experience. The nuance and realities of his neurodiversity and the specificities of his choices and reactions helped allow Greg to be an authentic and specific example of someone on the spectrum in a way that wouldn’t have been possible working with an actor who is not neurodiverse.
Plus, Jonathan is just very funny! And his ad-libs, personality, and sense of humor really show through throughout the season. People should also check out his Dorktales Storytime Podcast where his storytelling includes doing the voices of numerous characters.
How do you want kids (and adults) to feel about “Greg the Cheese Grater” after listening to Season 3?
I know everyone will love Greg the Cheese Grater after listening to Season 3! I hope kids and adults who are on the spectrum feel seen and heard, just a little bit. And I hope Greg helps to normalize and destigmatize the conversation around autism and neurodiversity for kids and adults who are not on the spectrum.
“It is easy to be uncomfortable about topics and people you don’t understand, and so I hope Greg becomes a friend so that kids and adults have a better understanding of what it means to have a friend who is on the spectrum.”
I also hope our listeners are proud of Greg after listening to season 3! Greg grows SO much over the course of the season, and in the end, makes a big choice about what he wants to do with his life. That’s the kind of choice everyone makes multiple times while growing up, and is something everyone can relate to.
How many episodes are there in Season 3?
There are 26 episodes in all, lots of time spent keeping your young chefs ingrained and entertained in a screen-free and educational way!
Is there anything else that you’d like to mention about the podcast or Season 3?
Our show is hosted by Molly Birnbaum, Editor in Chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids, and co-hosted by Mitsy the Oven Mitt! Mitsy is a fun and funny character who brings a ton of wacky and weird joy to the show. Voiced by the very talented Ceara O’Sullivan. The whole show is very weird in ways that I hope our listeners will love.
Where can people find and follow America’s Test Kitchen Kids and Mystery Recipe Podcast?
Listeners can find Mystery Recipe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever podcasts are available. Please subscribe, rate and review, as it is a big help for our show! America’s Test Kitchen Kids is at:
@testkitchenkids on Instagram
@testkitchen on Twitter
@americastestkitchenkids on Facebook
You can also check out our new channel for some more food science fun on America’s Test Kitchen Kids on Youtube!
She is a member of the Multicultural Children’s Book Day Board of Advisors and active as a Kids Listen member, an organization that advocates for high-quality children’s podcasts..