As a cooking school director, I have the pleasure of working with all types of cuisines, recipes, tools, personalities and people. But I would have to say that my favorite, and the most rewarding aspect of my job, is the opportunity to teach kids how to cook.
The ability to feed yourself, and to care for others through food, is so liberating and rewarding. And to teach someone that necessary skillset so early in life is a wonderful thing indeed. But for many of our young chefs, it’s about more than just feeding themselves and their families. Many of our cooking class students are working towards a career in the culinary arts.
We host cooking classes year round, but the fun really begins in June when our summer camps kick off. We host multiple week-long camps in which the kids work in teams to read, plan, prep and cook every day. For the older kids, Thursday involves a little element of competition. We invite industry professionals from the community to serve as judges, and each team works together to prepare a meal to present. Our budding chefs typically put their own spin on recipes prepared earlier in the week, truly making them their own. Then, the competition beings. Dishes are presented to the judges, women and men who work in various facets of the food industry – we’ve hosted chefs, food stylists, food photographers, bloggers, cookbook authors, corporate recipe developers and testers, journalists, cooking teachers, and food activists – the list goes on. These judges score on presentation (including verbal presentation), taste, and creativity. The kitchen staff scores each team on their teamwork component. After much tasting and tabulating, the winners are announced and prizes are presented. It’s amazing how close the scores are every time (it often boils down to teamwork, a tough but important lesson). No matter the age of the campers, Friday always means lunch for their invited guests, and they leave no detail untouched. Each child is recognized by the chef for their unique gifts and contribution, and everyone leaves full and happy.
And while all of that is fun, delicious, and tells a nice tale, it’s the memories and what happens after they leave the kitchen that are the most important. I’ve had parents write and call to share their stories, many of which would make you laugh. But my favorites are the ones that put a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye: comments such as: “Just wanted to tell you what an amazing experience this was for her. I haven’t seen her this happy in a long time.”; “He’s been talking about the next summer camp since the last one”; “She’s not a particularly athletic child and has struggled trying to find her “special gift”, Cooking seems to make her very happy”; and “He cooks dinner at home more than I do. He’s already talking about going to culinary school someday”. It seems that we aren’t just teaching kids how to elevate dinner from a PB&J to real food, we’re helping them to find their place in this world.
What more could we ask for?