June 20, 2012 10:35:53 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
It may be summer, but "school" is very much in session at Mississippi University for Women's Culinary Arts Institute. Throughout the month of June, emerging cooks are earning their aprons during week-long sessions at MUW's Culinary Camp for Kids.
In the Institute's professional kitchen, children in grades 2 through 12 are exploring the world of food through demonstrations and hands-on work.
The annual camp often has a waiting list and many campers are repeat customers. Those returning this year had a few new faces waiting for them.
At the helm
Chef Sara Steen of Jackson is taking the lead role in the summer camp kitchen, a position ably filled for many years by Chef Vicki Leach. Steen's team includes assistants Chef Jakiero Dismuke of Strong, Ark., and Chef Rachel Merritt of Olive Branch. All three are graduates of the MUW Culinary Arts program. They have the expertise of the Institute's interim director, Chef Erich Ogle, and Cheryl Brown, coordinator of culinary operations, to draw on as well.
Steen, 23, was eager for this experience.
"I eventually want to teach later in life, so I knew this would be good practice -- plus I thought it would be fun," said Steen, who is the wedding cake coordinator for Campbell's Bakery in Jackson.
The professional pastry chef triggered an excited stir among campers by including a cake-decorating lesson during the June 11-15 session.
"I think that was my favorite," enthused 12-year-old Michelle Sobley of Columbus. The return camper is the daughter of Mitchell and Susan Sobley.
"We iced our cake and froze it and we got to put the piping and decoration on it," she continued. "Our group decided to put a peace sign on ours and wrote our names around it and did flowers."
Campers worked in teams of two or three throughout their session.
Chef Jakiero Dismuke explained, "Each of us (chefs) got about six students each, and we worked with them individually and in groups."
The MUW graduate added, "I'm very motivated by the kids because one day I hope to teach high school students how to cook; this lets me know I'm capable of teaching kids and that I have the patience to work with them."
Ten-year-old Sims Bryan, the daughter of Wilkes and Amy Bryan of West Point, has already put some of her new-found culinary skills to good use at home.
"I made homemade pizza yesterday," the first-time camper said proudly on Tuesday. "And last night we made a cake for my family. My mother helped me with the oven, but I did a lot of it by myself."
At camp, Sobley, Bryan and their fellow campers worked on skills they can utilize for a lifetime, beginning with how to correctly use kitchen utensils and equipment, and basics of food safety and sanitation. They learned how to follow recipes and organize ingredients, menu planning and principles of nutrition.
Lesson plans and goals for each week are adjusted as campers' ages and skill levels increase. Parents are invited to a demonstration and tasting on the final day of each session. Campers the week of June 11-15 served their guests homemade pizza and the decorated cakes. Earlier in the week, they tried their hand at making pasta and sauces, among other items.
"The hardest thing for me, I think, was probably frying," admitted Sobley. "We fried onion rings and potato chips, and you have to know when to take them out; they burn so easily."
Merritt praised the campers.
"The kids are awesome! I never realized how excited most of them are about cooking. They're eager to learn everything we throw at them; they want to stay busy and try new things."
"I expected the kids to be eager, but I don't think I expected them to be this willing; they even love going into the 'dish pit' and cleaning," smiled the camp director.
Many campers are already looking forward to next summer's sessions and the culinary wonders they may hold.
"It definitely teaches you; you will learn something," Sobley said with conviction. "Yes, ma'am, I'm definitely going back again."
Editor's note: To be added to the mailing list for brochures for MUW's 2013 camp, contact the Culinary Arts Institute, 662-241-7472. Today's Culinary Camp recipes are courtesy of Chef Sara Steen.
Makes 16 servings
4 cups water
10 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons butter, melted
4 cups all-purpose flour
8 quarts oil for frying
2 cups white sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
BEST FOCCACIA BREAD
Makes one-half sheet pan
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Dash ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Makes 3 cups
2 ripe avocados
1/2 red onion, minced
1-2 serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Dash of freshly grated black pepper
1/2 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped
5 roma tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, chopped
1 red onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.