Would-Be Chefs Expand Skills at Cooking Camp
By Sherry Fisher
Fifteen youngsters traded peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for chicken pine-nut dumplings and ginger-chili dipping sauce during a week-long cooking camp offered by the nutritional sciences department July 8-12.
Would-be chefs, ages 10-16, honed their culinary skills and learned about international cuisine, food safety and nutrition at the camp offered by IN-SYNC, the Institute of Nutrition Summer Youth Nutrition and Cooking program. Carol Lammi-Keefe, professor and head of nutritional sciences, and Ellen Shanley, extension instructor-in-residence, organized and ran the program.
In a world of fast-food restaurants and frozen pizzas, too many children aren't getting home-cooked meals, Shanley said. "People just aren't cooking. It's a national trend."
Shanley and Lammi-Keefe also find that college students who take their nutrition classes say they rarely pick up a frying pan. "They don't know much about cooking and have had little exposure to different kinds of food," said Shanley.
So they put the culinary camp together to spark youngsters' interest in cooking, broaden their palates, and encourage them to have fun with food, Lammi-Keefe said.
While most of the youngsters came to camp prepared to have a good time, they also looked forward to learning.
Duncan Freake, a 10-year-old from Windham, said he wanted to learn new recipes: "I've never cooked Chinese food before, so that's going to be interesting."
Eleven-year-old Angie Les from South Windsor said she enjoys baking at home, but wanted to learn more complicated recipes.
The campers met from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the foods laboratory of the Jones building, where they prepared a different ethnic meal every day. In addition to cooking, the youngsters got a short lesson on the history of the food and the country from which it came. The fare for the week included dishes from China, the U.S., Italy, Mexico and the Middle East.
On the first day of camp, the youngsters wore crisp, white aprons and sat around stainless steel counters in the foods laboratory, munching on spring rolls that Shanley had just prepared. Later, campers made a fresh fruit basket, won ton soup, chicken pine-nut dumplings, ginger-chili dipping sauce, chicken with hoisin sauce, pepper steak, steamed rice, and almond cookies.
Lammi-Keefe held up a map of China, and explained where certain foods are grown.
"If you were in this part of the country, you wouldn't see rice, you'd see corn," she said. "Rice is in the wetlands."
Shanley, meanwhile, stood at a sink washing fruit. She talked about the importance of washing it properly.
After the last of the kumquats, cherries and nectarines were added to a basket fashioned from a watermelon, the campers moved into small groups. Each group prepared a different Chinese dish.
Karl Marco-Cortiel, a 13-year-old from Willington, mixed ingredients for the dumplings. He looked at the recipe with a puzzled expression. "One large egg, beaten to blend," he said. "What does that mean?" he asked a fellow camper.
Nearby, 11-year-old Ian Sullivan of Stafford Springs, carefully chopped pine nuts into fine pieces, while T.J. Whalen, a 13-year-old from Willington, measured chili oil. Another camper minced cilantro. Lammi-Keefe stood nearby and demonstrated how to peel fresh ginger.
When the stir-frying, steaming and boiling were over, and the tray of almond cookies was pulled from the oven, the campers, pleased with their efforts, sat down to a complete Chinese meal.