I recently had the pleasure of working an entire week with 15 fabulous young people during our second annual 4-H Junior Chef Academy. It was awesome seeing those young people learning not only how to cook, but also learning proper etiquette during a meal, seeing food businesses in action, and creating their own food businesses.
One of my favorite memories from the academy was watching these 9- to 13-year-olds sitting down to a meal at Pinehurst Resort, a fine dining establishment, for the first time. They not only learned which utensil to use for each part of the meal but also how to sit in their chairs, where to place their hands, and under what circumstances to excuse themselves from the table.
They learned where to place their napkin before leaving the table, how to talk during the meal, and cellphone etiquette. They didn’t know exactly how to act or speak, yet handled the experience quite well — probably better than some adults. It was priceless.
Following our meal, Executive Chef Thierry Debailleul provided a tour of their expansive kitchen. He also shared the story of his culinary journey, hopefully inspiring future chefs in the group.
Another favorite memory of the week included touring La Farm Bakery in Cary. Each young person baked his or her own Baguettes. What a tasty prize.
Youth and adults alike were amazed at the huge European steam-injected oven at this bakery. Each drawer was lined with stone to hold heat like old-world ovens, producing a crispy crust. The students also learned about making lattes, using yeast as a leavening agent, and the three-day process required to bake old-world style bread.
Another experience was working with the local foods and tourism agent to learn about local foods at the farmers market and new terms like “value-added products.” The students had the opportunity to talk to farmers about produce and value-added products sold at the Robeson County Farmers Market. While on the field trip in Pinehurst, teams searched local businesses for value-added products.
Foods they prepared from scratch included spinach and chicken quiche, crepes, French toast, chocolate mousse, blueberry jam, butter cake and decorator icing. Many had their doubts about eating spinach, but there was very little quiche left on any plates. Their favorite foods seemed to be the crepes. They also learned how to decorate cakes and cookies.
As a family and consumer sciences agent, I’m usually preaching to eat half your plate in fruits and veggies. This academy provided a wide range of culinary experiences and skills students can use for a lifetime at home and in a career. They learned measuring, math, food safety, nutrition and much more.
Another grand opportunity was working with our Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program on reading nutrition labels, making healthy food choices, and learning about whole grains. In all, we had an activity-intense week.
One of the greatest compliments we receive from this camp is when a parent or grandparent comes in and identifies the skills their child learned as things they now do in everyday life. It seems like these young people are having more than just fun cooking up things. They are gaining skills that will last the rest of their lives.
Janice Fields is the family and consumer sciences agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Robeson County Center. She can be reached at 910-671-3276.