June 17, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Two pretty, young ladies wait in a hushed hallway in the Mississippi University for Women Culinary Arts Institute Friday afternoon. Nervous energy bubbles beneath the surface. They carefully look over their cart one more time to be sure nothing essential has been forgotten. Egg whites, sugar, half-and-half, mixing bowls -- all there.
Their anxious preparation is understandable. On the other side of the thick door facing them are about 30 parents, grandparents and friends gathered to watch cooking demonstrations from all the fourth- through sixth-graders who have spent the week at culinary camp. It''s "graduation" day, and they are up next.
MUW''s annual Culinary Camp for Kids is once again a tasty success. During four week-long sessions June 1-26, the university''s kitchens bustle with campers ages 2 through seniors in high school.
After a week of learning practical cooking techniques and experimenting with an array of recipes, each session''s grand finale has the campers, in teams of two, demonstrating a recipe in condensed form.
"It''s fun for them to get to be Emeril for a day," smiles camp director Vicki Leach, adding that many of the youngsters are fans of the food network. Leach is an adjunct faculty member at MUW and also teaches for the Viking Cooking School.
"We try to teach them to be comfortable enough in the kitchen through the week that on Friday, when they''re preparing for their demos, they''re doing the work themselves -- from mise en place to presentation." (Mise en place, pronounced meez ahn plahs, refers to having all ingredients and implements prepared and ready to go before you begin cooking.)
The strategy must work because, as Leach testifies, "they come in on Friday busting at the seams to get started."
Twelve-year-old Carrie Gayle, of Columbus, is attending camp for the first time this year.
"I get nervous," she admits before her demonstration on making potato soup with partner Makenzie Coggins. But her grin implies benevolent butterflies.
"We have to tell our ingredients and what we did," says Carrie, who has "cooked at home a lot." She enjoys the new things she''s learned at camp, like how to work with different appliances. But laughs over one other revelation: "By the end of the day, your feet really hurt!"
As Leach reminds the campers to "get with your buddy" and be sure they have at least three things ready to tell about their recipes, the two girls huddle over their game plan.
Building on basics
Leach, dressed in a crisp, white chef''s jacket and fun leopard-print slacks and apron, talks about camp.
"We spend the week covering kitchen basics with basic techniques, and I choose recipes based on what we try to teach them that day," she explains. "We start with baking and boiling techniques, then cover frying, stir-frying, sautéing and steaming, plus basic knife skills."
The students also do a few international foods, like Thai spring rolls, Italian minestrone, Mexican tamales. And then, their favorite, "sweet stuff."
"They also set tables every day, and we try really hard to instill the concept of dining, not just eating -- tasting everything to build their palate and memory bank, eating things fresh and minimally processed," the director pointed out.
With the assistance of culinary arts senior An Howard Schubert and other culinary students, Leach and the team also concentrate on teaching time management in the kitchen.
Back in the demonstration kitchen, the appreciative audience is enjoying samples from each team of their selected recipe, from potato salad to crème brulée. Some of the young cooks are even using a little kitchen "magic."
Rising sixth-grader Sara Dawson, the daughter of Terry and Dale Brewer, and her partner, Caitlin Crimm, of Starkville, laughingly exclaim, "Voila!" as they pull a pan of fully-cooked hot fudge pudding from an oven, only seconds after putting a pan of uncooked ingredients in another, "just like on TV."
"We don''t just cook in the kitchen," smiles Leach, "we have a fun time."
As the afternoon comes to a close, camp participants are presented a chef''s hat and cookbook to take home. They leave with new friendships, emerging palates and skills to build on for a lifetime.
But, of course, kids will be kids: the most fun part of all, they seem to agree, has been -- what else? -- "eating all the food!"
Hot fudge pudding
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans/nuts
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
Peanut butter dream bars
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup peanuts, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
One can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup M&M''s
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.