I don’t remember any of my peers taking cooking classes when I was a kid, but the world is different now, what with the Food Network and all the other TV cooking shows, websites, special events and the general blossoming of our foodie culture. At the same time, it’s no longer a given that a child learns to cook at home with Mom or Grandma, so a little outside instruction is often welcome. Whatever the reason, cooking classes for kids are a phenomenon of our times, and Fairfield County has many options for kids who are so inclined.
This will be an occasional series on opportunities for kids to learn to cook (mostly) in the Fairfield County area. Because right now is the time to think about summer camp, let's start there...
Culinary Camps: It’s not about bug juice anymore: If your junior foodie just isn’t into typical camp color war and weaving lanyards, why not send him or her to cooking camp? Several area cooking schools offer summer cooking camps for kids –and there are also sleep-away camp options that offer culinary themes. They look like so much fun you might just want to enroll yourself.
Culinary Day Camps
Chef Debra Ponzek made her name as chef of New York’s Montrachet back in the ‘90s, when it was still not quite the norm for a woman to be running an important restaurant kitchen. But the suburbs beckoned and she left the big city; in 1995, she and husband Gregory Addonizio decamped to the Riverside section of Greenwich to open Aux Delices, a gourmet shop selling specialty foods and baked goods. One thing led to another, and today, Aux Delices has two more locations, one in downtown Greenwich and one in Darien, as well as a catering division.
They also have a cooking school that offers classes for children and adults, and in summer, they do camp for kids ages 8-13. The director and teacher, Lynn Manheim, studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York before joining the Aux Delices team. She served as the company’s executive chef prior to assuming her duties at the cooking school.
She typically offers two (four- or five-day) camp sessions each summer; this year they will take place the week of June 13 and August 22. What’s different about these sessions is that they take place in the late afternoon, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., so if your budding chef does a half-day of another camp in the morning (or just likes to sleep late in the summer), this camp is ideal.
The 2011 camp sessions will feature a Chocolate Day (think Nutella sandwiches, chocolate mousse, chocolate dipped strawberries, and chocolate chip brownies), a Small Plates Day (mini-quiches, mini-cupcakes, mini-meatballs, and mini-sandwiches) and a Baking Day with Aux Delices cake chef, Brenda Ryan and more. The fee is $65 a class, or $300 for a five-class session. Camp takes place in Aux Delices’ Stamford kitchens. Contact: (203) 326-4540, ext. 108.
Sally Maraventano of Wilton grew up in the Italian neighborhood of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and learned to cook Italian specialties in her mother’s kitchen. She went on to study Italian language and culture at Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics and the University of Florence, Italy. Since 1981, she has offered cooking classes for adults and children and leads regional tours of Italy and, closer to home, to Arthur Avenue.
She also holds a four-day summer cooking camp for kids ages 10 to 16 in her lovely home. Summer 2011 will find her doing it again, August 22-24 and 26. This year’s camp won’t be strictly Italian. Maraventano will mix it up, with two days devoted to the Italian kitchen (a day of her favorite Italian pasta sauces plus breadsticks, Caprese salad and chocolate chip biscotti, and a Pizza Day, beginning with Sicilian Antipasto with grilled veggies, homemade pizza dough with various toppings, calzones, and Napolitano ice cream sandwiches) one day for international fare (Mexican tostadas, Chinese chicken skewers with peanut sauce, Greek salad and French crepes a l’orange) and a day of cake decorating (with Maria Sanchez of Sweet Maria’s Bakery; lunch is lasagna from Maria’s book).
Classes run from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Cost is $450 for all four days and includes lunch. Contact: (203)-762-0768; www.cucinacasalinga.com. (Full disclosure: Sally is an old buddy of mine. She’s a wonderful, warm teacher.)
The Kiddie Kitchen
Chef Neena Perez of Norwalk is a certified chef who offers themed birthday and special event parties. The mother of three boys and one girl believes that cooking classes are good for kids on many levels; besides teaching them to cook, they learn about healthful eating, teamwork, organization and exercise their creativity. A graduate of the culinary program at Norwalk Community College, she went on to teach at the youth programs and summer camp that are held at the school.
This summer, she is launching her own camp as part of the Kiddie Kitchen, offering six (four-day) sessions covering three themes. “Breakfast Fun” will be offered July 18-21 for grades 3-5 and July 25-28 for grades 6-8. “International Cuisine” will be the theme August 1-4 for grades for grades 3-5 and August 8-11 for grades 6-8. “Summer Grilling Fun” is the focus August 15-18 for grades 8-10 and August 22-25 for grades 6-8.
Sessions run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and are held in Stamford. Cost is $290 per camper per session. Contact: (203)-347-8225; www.thekiddiekitchen.com.
Cooking at Sleep-away Camp
Girl Scout Camps
The Girl Scouts of Connecticut operate some nine camps throughout the state, plus one in Massachusetts, and pretty much all of them offer outdoor cooking experiences as part of their overall camping programs. Most of these camps are too far afield for CTBites’ Fairfield County readers to take advantage of the day camp programs, but three offer sleep-away (ahem, resident) camp sessions and in 2011 two will host sessions that zero in on cooking.
Your child doesn’t have to have prior experience as a Girl Scout to attend, but they do ask that she become a Scout, an easy process which involves registering and paying a $12 registration fee. Financial assistance is available. Contact: (800) 922-2770 or (203) 239-2922; www.gsofct.org.
• At Camp Candlewood, on Candlewood Lake in New Fairfield, girls in grades 4-6 can try a seven-day session that promises “The Best Cook-Out Ever.” This program runs twice this summer: July 3-9 and July 31-August 6. Campers will cook everything from a one-pot meal to a four-course dinner, plus snacks, regular meals and special delicacies. Plus, the campers will live in cabins on the camp’s rustic campus, and take part in all camp-wide activities from the morning flag-raising to the specials such as Pirate Day. The fee is $490.
• Also at Camp Candlewood, girls in grades 4-6 can opt for a session of “Cooking, Hiking and Games.” This program runs twice this summer: July 3-16 and July 17-30. Each day, participating Scouts will create their own agenda, choosing the meals they want to cook and the games they want to play; they’ll also plan and take a hike to the camp’s lookout point. They’ll live in cabins on the rustic campus and take part in camp-wide activities. The fee is $780.
• At Timber Trails in Tolland, Massachusetts (in the Berkshires, just over the state borderline), girls in grades 7-12 can take part in “Timber Trails Top Chef,” June 26-29. Three days of outdoor cooking will include everything from Dutch ovens to grilling over an open fire. Girls live in wooden cabins with no electricity and take part in camp-wide activities. Timber Trails also has an active riding program. The fee is $195.
Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont
A little farther away, in Highgate Center, Vermont, a CIA-trained chef named Kelly Q. Dietrich operates the Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont. Dietrich has served as an executive chef at several hotel resorts and restaurants and currently operates Souza’s Churrascaria, a Brazilian restaurant in nearby Burlington, Vermont. This seemingly tireless chef has also had his own TV and radio shows.
The program covers everything from culinary skills to farming and animal care (they gather eggs, milk the cows and feed the goats every morning!) to international flavors. The kids cook in the morning and spend the afternoons enjoying outdoor activities and culinary field trips. For “graduation” family and friends are invited to enjoy a meal prepared by the campers.
The camp is open to kids ages 10-17 and enrolls a maximum of 20 students per session. The Culinary Academy runs six single-week sessions (June 19-25, July 10-16, July 17-23, August 7-13, August 14-20, and August 21-27) and two two-week sessions (June 26-July 9 and July 24-August 6).
The program covers knife skills and methods of cooking, soups, sauces and salads, breakfast and brunch, seafood, beef and poultry, garnishes, international cuisine, bread and pastry, pies and cakes, cake decorating, healthy eating habits, hygiene, nutrition and organic food sources; aquaponics (they breed tilapia and grow micro-greens and herbs in the greenhouse); composting; shiitake mushroom cultivation, beekeeping; and olive oil infusion and bottling. It might sound intense, but no prior cooking knowledge is required.
Fees are $2695 for 1 week, $4900 for two weeks and $2000 for each additional week. (Fees are discounted for commuting students—if you happen to have a vacation home nearby.) Graduates receive knives, chef whites and toques. Contact: (802) 868-3030; www.kidsculinary.com.
Karen Berman is a Fairfield-based food writer and editor who specializes in food and lifestyle topics. Her latest cookbook is Friday Night Bites: Kick Off the Weekend with Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family (Running Press). She joins the CT Bites team as a contributor to our Kids Bites page. Karen earned her certificate in cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and her ongoing culinary studies have taken her as far as the Thai House Cooking School, in Thonburi, Thailand. Since becoming a mom nine years ago, she has become fascinated by how and what kids eat. Her book is a collection of themed dinners for families with kids, with crafts, TableTalk trivia questions and conversation starters and other whimsical activities.