boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

Two young sisters are teaching kids to cook on their site

Liv (left) and Belle Gerasole give cooking tips, interview chefs, and have food-oriented games on spatulatta.com.

Eleven-year-old Isabella Gerasole, who is called Belle, and her 9-year-old sister, Olivia, known as Liv, are two years into their video website. Last year, the girls won a James Beard award for webcasts, making them the youngest winners to accept the acclaim. And they just might be the cutest.

Belle and Liv are co hosts of spatulatta.com, which is intended for other children. The sisters say that their love of food and cooking is inherited. "We're Italian," says Belle matter-of-factly, as if no further explanation were necessary.

Spatulatta.com is the brainchild of award-winning filmmaker Gaylon Emerzian, the Gerasoles' neighbor in Evanston, Ill. The site has roughly 200 streaming videos in which the young cooks demonstrate basic kitchen skills and some ambitious dishes such as crunchy chicken yaki-tori, green bean casserole, and caprese salad. They like to make fun treats like turkey cupcakes, "worms in dirt," which is chocolate pudding with gummy worms and crushed chocolate cookies, and mermaid Jell-O. There are also food-oriented games, guest chefs, and contests. In one segment, they're interviewing celebrity chef Rick Bayless and his daughter Lanie. Sometimes Belle and Liv are on-screen together; sometimes one or the other will go it alone; or one of them will have a guest assistant. The focus is always on healthy food and ingredients. The goal is to teach kids that cooking can be fun.

Emerzian says that she started thinking about the site 10 years ago, when she directed a TV show about the USDA food pyramid for National Geographic's educational department. A 10-year-old boy on the program got very excited when he made a pizza using different food groups, exclaiming to his mother, "I always thought pizza came in a box!" Her wheels started spinning after that. "I thought, kids are so bright, why not have them teach each other how to cook?" she recalls on the phone. It took several years for her to find the right kids.

Belle and Liv blend precocious kitchen savvy with kid charm. Their mother, Heidi Umbhau, who co-produces the site with Emerzian, is a frequent on-screen presence, but Belle does not hesitate to point out, "My mother was a terrible cook before Spatulatta." It was the girls' father, Vince Gerasole, a general assignment and dining reporter for CBS 2 Chicago, who taught the young hosts to cook, starting each at age 2.

For each segment, the girls do a lot of the prep work; adults handle dangerous tasks like chopping and slicing. Belle admits that some of the behind-the-scenes work can get "tedious, but it's fun." The girls shoot segments twice a month, two at a time, and post new episodes on the first and 15th of each month.

Sixth-grader Belle cooks when she's off camera. "I like experimenting a lot, but that doesn't always go so well." She thinks recipes are "over-rated," and prefers making savory dishes rather than baked goods. "Baking is good, but it's more of a science."

Liv is the opposite. This third-grader loves to bake and has no problem relying on recipes. Occasionally she watches TV food programs. Her favorite ever was "Sugar Showdown," in which pastry chefs made beautiful constructions out of sugar.

Both girls enjoyed Bayless, a Chicago restaurateur who has his own TV show. "He is a very nice man," says Belle. "He did a good job." Liv found him to be "very, very fun," and says she would also like to interview Giada De Laurentiis, who presented the girls with their Beard award.

A while later, they were approached by Barilla, the pasta and sauce company, which is now a sponsor of the site. Other sponsors have included Hidden Valley Ranch. The girls also have an agent -- Doe Coover of the Doe Coover Agency in Winchester -- and a Spatulatta book in the works for the fall.

Emerzian says the site receives lots of e-mail, from kids sending in recipes (which the girls solicit) and asking questions about kitchen tasks. Moms write in asking how to get around their children's food allergies. The e-mails have come from as far away as Honduras and Sweden.

This year, Belle and Liv were nominated for a second James Beard award, but did not win. They seem to have some perspective. "I will definitely continue cooking," says Liv. "But I don't know if I want to make cooking a career. I might want to be a veterinarian or an artist."

To see Liv and Belle Gerasole, go to spatulatta.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES