July 2, 2014 10:28:33 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
There was a bit of Italia in the air Friday at Mississippi University for Women's Culinary Arts Institute. On the final day of this summer's MUW Culinary Camp for Kids, participants in the seventh through 12th grades prepared an Italian-themed luncheon for parents and friends, presenting demos of each course. Campers' acquired skills were showcased in the menu of Italian salad with lemon vinaigrette, spaghetti and meatballs, cheese ravioli, herb and cheese breadsticks and chocolate chip cannoli. The lunch gave campers a chance to replay one of their favorite sessions from earlier in the week -- Pasta Day.
"Pasta Day is always a big hit among all ages!" said Culinary Camp Director Mary Helen Hawkins. "I think most students associate pasta with something dried in bags or found in cans at the grocery store. To actually make the pasta dough themselves, and cut and prepare it, is not only educational, but lots of fun."
Tinsley Brooks of Columbus has gotten pretty good at making pasta: this is his 14th summer to attend Culinary Camp.
"Over the years I think I've made everything, from pasta to creme brulee," the 18-year old said. "I think I'll be able to take care of myself when I go off to college." The Heritage Academy graduate, the son of Dr. James and Rosemarie Brooks, plans to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall. His favorite session at camp is Breakfast Day. "I absolutely love that day," he laughed.
Start them young
Giving aspiring young cooks a solid foundation is the goal of MUW's camp. This June, four week-long sessions provided a total of 75 youth in second through 12th grades hands-on experience in learning about appliances, safety, meal planning and even etiquette.
"Each week we began with rules of the kitchen, safety and sanitation, and there's nothing like seeing the kids' eyes light up when they find out they are allowed to use a 10-inch chef's knife and a blow torch on the very first day," said Chef Hawkins. Both of those items, of course, are used under close supervision.
When it comes to knives, "I try to place emphasis on a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, because of the force used to cut with," Hawkins remarked. "I also explain to them how to hold the knife while walking and that a falling knife has no handle and why. I am happy to say that every child left with the same amount of fingers and toes that they came with!"
Campers also focused on following recipes, proper measurements, team building, execution and plating of dishes and clean-up. Recipes and challenges were tailored to each age group. Every day had a theme: Breakfast Day; Little Italy (Pasta Day); Mexican Fiesta (complete with pinata); cake decorating; and "graduation" day, as parents attended their Italian luncheon and toured the facility.
Culinary Camp chef's assistant and culinary arts student Stefanie Watkins of Batesville praised the campers. The final week's group, with older students, was especially satisfying to work with. Several participants, like Brooks, brought kitchen experience to camp. Many of them have cooked, watched their parents cook or followed cooking shows on TV, noted Watkins. "The best part is seeing the children really interested in some of the recipes and having them ask to do special recipes."
Camp chef's assistant Stacy Adams, sporting a red chef's cap embroidered with his name, graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute in May. A few campers may be a little shy at the beginning of their camp week, he said. But as the week progresses, Adams sees them transform as they get to know their team members and get caught up in the cooking. "It's great to see them coming out of their shells," he smiled. "And this group in particular was very eager to learn. They especially liked pasta and cake days." Almost every cake Friday was decorated with Independence day in mind.
Like other campers, 13-year-old Armstrong Middle School student Joy Nabors picked up her patriotic cake to take home Friday as camp came to an end. Cake Day was her favorite session, but she enjoyed making the Italian luncheon, too.
Her parents, Dr. Ben and Misty Nabors, bragged on the meal as they mingled with other campers and their families afterward.
"I will cook some at home now," said Joy, who thinks she might like to attend the Culinary Arts Institute when she is older, and perhaps become a chef one day.
In the meantime, she is planning to return to kids' camp in 2015, where the next generations of home and professional cooks are learning all the right ingredients.
Editor's note: To learn about next summer's Culinary Camp, contact MUW's Culinary Arts Institute, 662-241-7472.
FRESH PASTA DOUGH
Makes 1 pound
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh herbs, spinach, optional
(Source: Recipe adapted from The Viking Cooking School)
Makes 4 servings
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled out into sheets
1 1/2 cups Boursin cheese
Water, as needed
Fresh herbs for garnish
(Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins)
HERB AND CHEESE BREADSTICKS
Makes 4-6 servings
1 puff pastry sheet, cut into 3/4-inch strips
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 to 2 teaspoons dried basil or fresh herbs from herb garden
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup butter, melted
(Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins
CHOCOLATE CHIP CANNOLI
15 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
15 premade small cannoli shells
Heavy cream, if needed
Chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, for garnish, optional
Confectioners' sugar, if desired
(Source: Courtesy of Chef Mary Helen Hawkins)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.