Teens at Kitchen on Fire receive cooking instruction from beloved Chef Olive.
At East Bay summer camps, today’s East Bay wannabe chefs learn dishes way beyond PB&J or chocolate chip cookies.
Are your kids hungry to learn how to make more than PB&J sandwiches? This summer, a smorgasbord of East Bay camps will help budding chefs create handmade tortillas, pickled vegetables, homemade bread and artisanal chocolate. The variety of weeklong programs promises to introduce kids and teens to world cuisines, help them master basic culinary skills, learn from guest chefs, visit organic gardens or farmers markets, and even add yoga to the mix. Consult websites below for specific dates, programs, and fees.
Cooking Round the World
Oakland, Emeryville (and other locations), Ages 6-13
What do folktales, international playground games, and language learning have to do with cooking? They are all part of a broader goal at Cooking Round the World. Founder and director Mindy Myers believes that hands-on learning is the key to exposing children to the world around them, especially using food as a conduit. She says this program aims to “demystify differences and encourage children to embrace different cultures.”
In the weeklong camps, kids not only learn cooking skills and broaden their palate, but also become acquainted with “cultural tidbits about each country’s culture, like marriage customs, family, education, toys and games, street art, how climate influences food, and fashion.”
Each week has a theme, such as Regions of Italy, Regions of China, or Pizza Round the World. After observing a daily cooking demonstration, campers learn to cook several meals and eat together as a family, while thinking critically about these dishes. For example, Myers says, “ Not just was it good, but was it crunchy or salty, different from what they eat home?” Afternoons, they see a slide presentation, play international games, and bake dessert.
Sprouts Cooking Club
East Bay Locations, Ages 7-15
In these weeklong camps, students participate in hands-on cooking classes in restaurants, go on field trips to farms, engage in camper cook-offs and blindfolded palate play, and more activities.
One draw is that Sprouts campers are able to cook with chefs from respected local restaurants such as Trick Dog, Chez Panisse, and the Slanted Door. Learning to master improvised cooking as well as following recipes lead to enthusiastic and confident chefs. Don’t be surprised if your camper asks to add vegetables to your shopping list.
Emeryville, Ages 9-12 and 12-16
“Knowing how to cook has zero drawbacks,” champions Cook!’s website. “It is a skill-set that rewards us in every way, from cultivating better eating habits, to teaching us how to be generous with others, to giving us marketable skills in the work-world.”
Weeklong classes are held in a fully stocked commercial kitchen. Some of this summer’s themes are: Foods of France, Foods of Greece, Thai Home Cooking, Dumplings of the World, and Baking.
When they say, “baking,” they are not just talking about chocolate chip cookies. Students in these courses (beginning and advanced) learn to make pâte à choux, soufflés, puff pastry, macarons, croissants, danish, breads, and sourdough. Each week’s class ends with a feast that is open to families.
Students learn knife skills and how to prepare meals from scratch, using high-quality, local ingredients. The young cooks are often so inspired after camp ends that they are eager to make their favorite dishes for friends and family.
South Berkeley, Ages 5-13
The menu at Bliss Belly camps is vegetarian and free of refined sugar, and ruling motto is, “A happy mind starts with a healthy belly.”
Founder Neelam Patil, a chef and teacher, explains that the program is based on the principles of Ayurveda. “We start everyday with an hourlong session of yoga, breathing, and meditation, then check in during circle time, share a snack, and start cooking a three-course meal. After lunch, we clean up and play.”
Dishes at the Farmers Market camps may include: Italian lentil soup, fresh baked bread, rainbow rolls, chickpea curry, handmade ravioli, and vegan sushi.
Bliss Belly also offers a special treat: Artisanal Chocolate, Healthy Baking, and Hand Churned Ice Creams Camp, where campers learn to make chocolate bonbons, bark, and truffles using low-glycemic sweeteners. After discovering how chocolate is produced from bean to bar, campers do a blindfolded tasting activity to experience chocolate’s full flavors, through taste, smell, touch and texture.
Spun Sugar—Sweetie Camp
Berkeley, Ages 6-12
During the year, this enticing candy and baking supply shop offers classes in creating treats such as panoramic sugar eggs and gingerbread houses. But in the summer—despite its name—the five-day Sweetie Camps expand beyond desserts to include main entrées, soups, sides, salads, and baked goods.
Each day has a different theme. Past camp themes include Under the Tuscan Sun (Italian cuisine), Wrap and Roll (with lumpia, sushi, and more) and Monster Mash (scary vegetables). Menus may explore American, Greek, Mexican, or Asian dishes. High Tea Parties are always a hit.
Children learn to read recipes, gather ingredients, handle kitchen utensils, including knives, whisks, measuring cups and spoons. They prepare and chop vegetables and fruit, learn how to handle meat properly, and use a sauté pan. Cleanliness and cooperative teamwork are encouraged. Campers often make jams and other edible gifts. And of course, Spun Sugar excels in baking cookies, breads, cakes and a host of other sweet treats.
Kitchen on Fire
Oakland and Berkeley, For Teens
Consistently recognized as one of the top cooking schools in California, Kitchen on Fire offers a weeklong program for teens in the Berkeley and Oakland kitchens.
Founder and instructor Chef Olivier Said, known affectionately as “Chef Olive,” is a wise and irreverent French charmer, a seasoned chef who sprinkles tidbits of nutritional wisdom into his lively hands-on instruction.
“I’ve seen teens step into the kitchen and totally transform,” he says. “Learning cooking skills gives confidence that translates into other parts of the individual’s life. Teens are in a transitional space between child and adulthood, and giving them necessary tools to be self-sufficient is incredibly rewarding. Above all, we’re in the kitchen to have fun, because laughing, cooking, and eating go hand in hand.”
The week’s menu, which globe-hops from Japan to Mexico, with stops in Israel, India, and the South of France, is enough to make a parent drool with envy.
This article was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.