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Cooking with Ellamarie Fortenbach
April 02, 2007, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh

Ellamarie Fortenbach turned to her cooking roots to teach her three daughters about patience, following instructions and acknowledging the rewards of hard work,

Cooking was always part of Ellamarie Fortenbach’s life.

When it came time to teach her three daughters about patience, following instructions and acknowledging the rewards of hard work, Fortenbach turned to her cooking roots. The San Carlos mom was tired of seeing only the negative side of people’s corporate success splattered in the news. She wanted her girls to respect higher education and the hard work people put in to become successful and, sometimes, be their own boss.

Fortenbach began having the girls get involved with cooking. Soon, she was hosting cooking classes with children coming over to learn. While in the kitchen, Fortenbach brings up educational points, or business topics. Three years ago, the classes and conversation sparked another idea: a cookbook.

Fortenbach is finishing a kid’s cookbook featuring executives and celebrities cooking with children. Each featured adult writes a letter to the children about their own battles with education and growing up along with a younger photo of themselves. Recipes are depicted with photos of those featured showing kids what to do in the kitchen.

Creating a cooking empire wasn’t Fortenbach’s intention all along; it just worked out that way. Fortenbach was raised in Dallas, although you wouldn’t be able to tell by chatting with her since the twang is completely missing. She followed a friend out to Los Angeles at 22 after visiting Beverly Hills.

It was supposed to be a temporary move, but the sunshine was intoxicating and Fortenbach made California her home. Eventually she headed north to San Francisco where she slowly adjusted to the idea of paying for parking. She started working at a CPA firm.

Fortenbach entered a radio competition allowing people to share wishes that could be granted. She wished for her grandparents to have a vacation. Her grandfather ran a nonprofit feeding the homeless — inspiring to Fortenbach.

Her wish was granted and the three of them went on a trip to Maui, where she met her future husband Eric in 1991. He asked Fortenbach to meet up with him once they were back to California, for business reasons of course.

The two quickly hit it off and were married two years later.

"I always told him, ‘you never thought that trip would change your whole life,’” she said with a laugh.

Today, they live in San Carlos with their three daughters 11-year-old Foustene, 9-year-old Solange and 4-year-old Satiene. The youngest girls share a birthday, and, uniquely, were both born one month early.

Cooking was a way for Fortenbach to introduce new food to the girls in a way that would get them to at least try the food.

"I have made it a priority to expose everything to my kids from sushi to escargot and frog legs. If you use things like spinach and broccoli in the preparation of making things, the kids are more willing to try it,” she said.

The time together allows Fortenbach to work and interact with her children. She noticed cooking allowed her to emphasize life’s little lessons to her children, without drilling it into them like a drill sergeant.

Those are the things Fortenbach hopes to stress in her book, and her girls are helping her make choices along the way. The recipes will be "simple recipes.”

"Even though you buy, it doesn’t seem like it’s simple, but it’s very simple. I think that we like to say it’s really hard. We’re not going to be making a soufflé, forget it. A lot of things you think are difficult, they’re really not. You just have to know what you’re doing,” she said.

Part of that is knowing the safety rules. Safety is a high priority for Fortenbach, who noted more than 1 million children per year get burned from cooking. Another learning aspect is etiquette.

Manners found Fortenbach at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto this weekend photographing for the book.  

A name and release date have yet to be announced, but the list of contributors keeps growing. It includes Randy Darcy, General Mills’ executive vice president and worldwide CTO,  making gingerbread men with Fortenbach’s eldest daughter Foustene, Chef Thomas Keller and his niece Elizabeth LeRoux, Cathy Kinney, president of the New York Stock Exchange, Harris Ranch CEO John Harris and Tom Hernquist, chief global growth officer for Hershey. Some of the people already agreed to appear in the upcoming show.

She’s still looking for more females to include in her work. Her oldest daughters have their hopes set on Jennifer Lopez, a goal Fortenbach is working on making a reality.

A name hasn’t been set in stone, but Fortenbach is toying around with "Ellamarie Cooking with Executives, Celebrities, and Kids.” Purchasing a book will go to a good cause. Six percent of proceeds will be split between two causes: California public schools and children with cancer.

For more information visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.



Tags: fortenbach, cooking, children, girls,

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