Campers today know the buzz-words of healthy eating. So camps such as Barney Medintz, trying to keep up with the times, are now teaching about reading labels and knowing where food comes from. “Our kids have educated palates. We talk about things they talk about,” said Wendy Fox, who manages Camp Barney’s Old City Kitchen. It’s an elective culinary program that focuses on farm-to-table concepts.
Campers are planting their own gardens, eating the food they grow at camp, and making their own healthy meals from scratch, Fox said. “A lot of healthy options they have to be able to do themself. They don’t come out of a box.”
New chefs visit each year from around the Southeast. For instance, last year a barbecue chef came from Charlotte, N.C., and a chef from Louisiana, helped campers make vegetarian gumbo.
When visiting chefs come to camp, they don’t just showcase their talents, they help campers learn how to use cooking utensils or other kitchen equipment, Fox said. “They [campers] do all the steps, not just watch. They need to see and touch. It’s not like a demonstration; it’s a do.”
For instance, campers learn to measure wet and dry ingredients. “My motto is cooking is chemistry.” After the preparation, “we all clean up and then we all eat.”
Last year a chef helped campers make their own organic mozzarella from farm-fresh milk. They conducted a taste test comparing store-bought to fresh wheat, “actual wheat you can hold in your hand, grown organically. We ground it ourselves,” Fox said. They tasted organic and non-organic bread.
Campers enjoyed cooking with the fresh herbs they grew. “We pulled the herbs out of the [CBM organic] garden and showed the kids. They could touch it and taste it and smell it.”
Camp Barney has chickens on the property, producing fresh eggs. “We feed leftover scraps to the chickens. “Kids see where food comes from and it doesn’t always come from Publix.”
From one visiting chef, campers learned how to processes skins from onions and pits from avocado to make dye for tie-dye, Fox said.
Among the interesting culinary classes at camp, “We do a cool program: things your bubbe would make,” learning about family customs. Some of the resulting creations were rugalach, babka, homemade pareve matzah ball soup and different flavors of matzot.
Howard Schrieber, culinary coordinator of the Marcus JCC, comes to camp to make a kosher version of sushi, a popular treat, Fox said. A Flying Biscuit chef comes every year to make homemade pasta from scratch.
If campers choose the camper kitchen option as an elective, they do a more in-depth cumulative project, Fox said. If they’re baking challah, they learn to make different kinds of challah. If the theme is Mexican, they’ll prepare five or six days of Mexican foods.
Cooking classes are among the most sought-after electives, she said. “It’s absolutely a top activity at camp,” Fox said.
When preparing dishes, there are always options to accommodate dietary needs, such as having all the proper ingredients to make recipes vegan or gluten-free alongside the traditional recipes. “We do accommodate everyone’s allergies and let others taste gluten-free [for instance] to see what it tastes like.”
New kitchen equipment added in recent years includes a tabletop convection oven, which cuts by 30 percent the time it takes for baking. A commercial dishwater allows the kitchen to clean dishes in under five minutes. With only 15 minutes between classes, the new dishwasher helps to speed turnaround time.
Fox hopes campers take the skills they learn at camp home to teach and prepare for their families. Cooking is a skill that will carry them through life, she said. “Food brings people together. It’s why these programs are so popular.”