Meet Gino Campagna, kids' favorite Italian chef. With 'Taste Test Challenge', he's inspiring kids to eat healthier, experiment with food, and become great cooks

By Roberta Valent

If you look for a Xmas cooking book to gift to your mom, dad, brothers & sisters, uncles, grandpa and grandma, don’t look no more. You found it. Taste Test Challenge by Gino Campagna.

I like to cook, and I love cookbooks, but for me it’s very hard to find one that I enjoy from beginning to end. When I saw Chef Gino’s new book, Taste Test Challenge, I was pleasantly surprised by the easiness of the recipes, the attention to detail, and the well-described process to get things done. There are also fun facts throughout each chapter that enlighten you about the history of food. This book will teach you the basics of Italian cuisine, and will inspire kids of all ages to become great cooks.

Chef Gino Campagna and kids

Chef Gino with his “students”

Gino Campagna was born and raised in Parma, Emilia Romagna, the food capital of Italy (some might say of the world), and moved to Los Angeles in the early ‘90s. Since then, his mission has been to educate families to prepare great, fresh, homemade food. In addition to teaching kids how to cook, he also hosts kids’ cooking shows like Kitchen Kids on YouTube, Gino’s Kitchen on Disney Channel, serves on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution team, and makes guest appearances on A&E’s Emmy Award-winning show Born This Way.

You can visit him online at and buy his book on Rodale Kids website, or Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and IndieBound.

But before you start your cooking adventure, read what he said to Foodiamo…

Getting to know Gino Campagna, kids’ favorite Italian chef

How long have you been cooking? I’ve been cooking all my life, it has always been a passion of mine. I also travel a lot and, being Italian, you always feel the obligation to feed everybody!

Is this your first cooking book? This is my first book. It’s like having a first born, I’m very proud. I am also very thankful to Maria Rodale and Erich Wight at Rodale Kids who put their trust in me.

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What was the first dish you remember preparing and being proud of? And which one was a disaster? I always helped my mom (simply known in Parma as La Pina or La Pine) in the kitchen, but I think the first thing I tried to do independently—and the proudest—was a budino (boo-dee-no!), using a chocolate powdered mix and milk. The Disaster dish I made was… the first time I went to London I was 14 and that’s where I first tasted Chinese food and immediately fell in love with it. When I went back to Parma, I bought a Chinese cookbook, but couldn’t find real Chinese ingredients, so when I made a lavish Chinese dinner for my family… let’s just say it wasn’t my night!

Taste Test Challenge by Chef Gino Campagna

Why did you want to write this book? I like to remind people that my background is in education and more than a chef, I am an instructor. A book was something that was missing in my experiences and something that I wanted to do for a very long time, but I didn’t want to self-publish. Needless to say, I was very happy when I received the call from Rodale Kids to make Chef Gino’s Taste Test Challenge.

Why a book aimed at kids and parents? I’ve worked with children all my life and when I came to the States in the early 90’s I noticed how little American families, children especially, knew about food compared to Italians, so I decided to make my mission to raise American families’ food IQ. If kids are involved in their food choices and preparations, they will be more motivated to try new, nutritious foods.

Why do you like cooking with kids? I relate to children and I miss being a child. At my age I still consider myself a dreamer, an enthusiast, I’m curious and always up to no good…. just like a child!

Chef Gino Campagna cooking with kids

Chef Gino’s favorite dish and cooking tips

Is there a dish that your mother makes better then you? I can compete with my mom making tortelli d’erbetta (spinach and ricotta ravioli), but I can never make cappelletti (meat dumplings) as good as hers. Last time she came to LA, she left me a box full of white powder wrapped in individual aluminum foil packets! It’s the secret ingredient she puts in her cappelletti’s meat filling that she won’t even reveal to her own children!

What is your favorite Italian dish to eat and prepare? It has to be Lasagne alla Bolognese. I love making fresh pasta, I love besciamella and ragù alla Bolognese, and lasagne contains all of the above. By the way, I make the best lasagne in Los Angeles: challenges accepted!

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Any secret of any recipe you want to share with Foodiamo? My motto is, and always will be: put a little love in your cooking!

Tell us about the show Born This Way. It’s a fantastic reality show on A&E, winning several Emmys, that chronicles the life of seven young adults with Down Syndrome. I’m proud to have participated in Season 1 and 2. When they called me back to shoot the first episode of Season 4, to interview the cast members and cook with them, I was super happy, I do a lot of cooking classes for kids with special needs (I hate that definition but use it for lack of a better one) and there is something magical when you can create a connection with them. I just adore the cast of Born This Way and for some reason that I just quite can’t understand, they all seem to love Chef Gino.

What would you like to do next? I’d like to share my personal 20+ years experience of cooking with children. I’d like to do some more public speaking and who knows? Maybe it’s time to hang the red apron on the wall!

Recipe from the book "Taste Test Challenge" by Gino Campagna

Photos courtesy of Gino Campagna and Rodale Kids. Recipe from ‘”Taste Test Challenge”. All rights reserved.