(08/01/19) ALEXANDRIA, La. — Junior chefs showcased their new culinary skills by hosting an informal buffet for their parents as part of the LSU AgCenter KidChef Camp held July 29-Aug. 1 at the DeWitt Livestock Center near Alexandria.
The healthy nutrition-based camp concentrates on food safety, kitchen safety and basic cooking, said AgCenter nutrition agent and camp organizer Quincy Vidrine.
“The children are doing everything from start to finish and learning how to light and properly use a grill and use air fryers, pressure cookers and other modern kitchen technologies,” she said.
“I’ve learned safety with knives and how to be careful around a stove, how important it is to wash your hands and to be aware of your surroundings in the kitchen,” fifth grader Preslee Wenkel said.
Ashley Wenkel, Preslee’s mother, said the instructors don’t treat the campers like babies; they give them responsibilities they can handle.
“She has confidence in the kitchen, and it has given me confidence in her abilities at the age that she is to let her do something that I probably would have made her wait awhile before trying,” Wenkel said.
“The camp is fast-paced, and we have a full workload every day,” Vidrine said, adding that each four-hour camp session includes not only food preparation but also educational lessons on cooking terms and nutrition while offering opportunities for campers to sample new fruits and vegetables.
“The campers don’t just prepare the food — they wash all their own dishes, clean up, sweep and mop — so they are learning life skills when it is all said and done,” she said.
Vidrine offered two camp sessions this summer, the first for teens ages 13-18, followed by a junior camp for youth ages 9-12 years old. Camps are conducted by AgCenter nutrition experts assisted by youth and adult volunteers.
Some of the teen chefs returned as counselors for the youth camp, and many KidChef Camp graduates have become competitors at 4-H University in The Next Food Star and Louisiana Chef contests, Vidrine said.
Bella Soulter is a KidChef veteran who said she looks forward to returning for the teen camp session next year.
“Every year we cook something different, so I get to try new things and see how I can do it better, so it helps me out,” Soulter said.
Recipes prepared during the camp included broccoli and cheese quesadillas, grilled shrimp, easy chicken and dumplings, beef fajita bowls, stuffed celery and strawberry granola frozen yogurt bites.
Soulter said she liked the cheeseburger sliders best. “Our patties looked more like meatballs, but it was fun,” she said.
“The first day we learned a lot about knife skills, and this whole week we have been using what we learned the first day,” said fifth grader Dailyn Foster, a KidChef Camp first-timer.
Foster said the best-tasting recipe was a corn casserole, but the shrimp creole was the most fun to make. “There was more chopping, and I love cutting stuff,” he said.
The culinary camps received an added boost in 2018 when the AgCenter received an Aetna Better Health of Louisiana grant that provided funds to upgrade the kitchen facility at the DeWitt Livestock Center and purchase new equipment to enhance the program.
“The camp is so popular we plan to offer two junior camp sessions next summer,” Vidrine said.
Camp registration is on a first-come basis, and a $100 fee per student covers the cost of food for the dozen-plus recipes and hands-on workshops. Camp scholarships are available from donations made by AgCenter volunteers.
LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Quincy Vidrine watches as participants at KidChef Camp participate in an activity. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter
Campers practice knife skills during the LSU AgCenter KidChef Camp. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter