STARKVILLE, Miss. — The smells coming from the classroom at one Mississippi State University summer camp will make a person hungry, which makes sense as the camp teaches kitchen skills and introduces new foods.
Culinary Arts Kids Camp is offered each year, with one week for older elementary age kids and another for junior high and high school students. The events focus on local foods, kitchen basics and easy recipes. Young people in grades 4-6 and 7-12 are introduced to food science, culinary arts and food preparation techniques.
“Research has shown the importance of hands-on experiences with foods and how, especially in children, it improves the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” said Courtney Crist, camp organizer and MSU Extension food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion.
“Our aim is to make food fun and expose ‘chefs’ to culinary skills and the science behind food,” Crist said. “The great thing about food science and culinary arts is that it provides a tasty foundation for STEM principles of science, technology, engineering and math.”
Each morning, campers would have instruction time as they watched demonstrations, asked questions and learned skills. Late mornings and afternoons were spent with hands-on activities, as campers got to try out new skills and cooking techniques.
“I think oftentimes kids who participate have a different perspective and willingness to try a new food because they made it,” she said. “They are proud of their work and enthusiastic to try it. Our goal is to make several connections to accessible ingredients, fruits, vegetables and other recipes.”
At the culinary arts camp, young people have the space and opportunity to learn new techniques.
“I learned how to properly cut and that you need to get the ingredients together before you cook,” said Noelle Fyke, 11, from Starkville.
When Chef Vicki Leach, a camp instructor and food and nutrition lecturer, taught the young campers about making dough, she introduced them to concepts such as activating yeast, quick rise and slow rise dough, and enriched versus lean dough.
In one activity, Leach led participants in making buns for a hamburger lunch they prepared.
“It smells so good,” one camper said of the growing yeast.
Leach then asked the kids to determine if the yeast was “alive enough” that they could use it.
“Yes, it’s happy enough that it can make the dough rise,” Leach said after checking on it.
As she kneaded and explained that process, she asked the campers to look for signs of gluten — which she said looks like rubber bands — and to tell her when she needed to add more flour.
“How are we going to make the bread shiny on top,” asked camper Max Gordon, who then learned that an egg wash or butter gives buns their traditional look.
Among the foods campers made and ate were meatballs, cupcakes, pasta, ravioli, pancakes, fruit tarts and breads. They learned measurements, knife skills, canning, cooking tools and how to use math to work with a recipe.
“This camp helps young people learn good kitchen habits and good nutrition habits,” Leach said. “Kitchen skills are a discipline like music skills. You bring kids in the kitchen, and they learn new skills and those disciplines stay with them.”
Anne Reid Marconi, 11, from Starkville, has attended Culinary Arts Kids Camp previously and enjoys hanging out with friends and cooking at the camp.
“I like to cook at home, and I make soups and sometimes I bake chocolate chip cookies,” Reid said. “If I mess something up, I try again. I want to make sure I try it again so I can get it right.”
Because of their different approaches and teaching styles, Crist and Leach make a good team for working with the young people.
“I feel we bring together the best our disciplines have to offer. We are both passionate about food and ultimately our goal is to share that passion and create a positive atmosphere,” Crist said.