Will the next star chef come from the line at a five-star fusion restaurant in Chicago, a trendy food truck in east Atlanta or maybe, just maybe, from a Georgia 4-H club in Morgan or Oconee County, Georgia?
This summer, about four dozen Georgia 4-H’ers learned culinary basics at the Kids Can Cook camp, hosted by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Morgan and Oconee counties.
Georgia 4-H and UGA Extension have always encouraged students to cook as a way to prepare them for the adult world, but more and more children see cooking as a way to express themselves. Kids who have grown up watching shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped” can’t wait to get in the kitchen, but they don’t always have a grasp of culinary basics. Cooking TV shows focus on much of the flash of food but skip lessons like keeping food safe or making sure that meat is thoroughly cooked.
“Many of those shows are not focused on the food safety piece or anything having to do with the nutritional aspects of cooking,” said Leigh Anne Aaron, a UGA Extension family and consumer sciences agent who organized this year’s camps. “They’re not going to talk about MyPlate (nutrition guidelines) on ‘Cake Boss’ because, really, who wants a nutritionally balanced cake? Those are the topics that we try to focus on in order to help give the children, and their parents, a more well-rounded view of food and cooking.”
Aaron, who serves as the family and consumer sciences agent for both Morgan and Oconee counties, held Kids Can Cook camps in both counties this summer and both were filled to capacity. Designed for fourth- to eighth-graders, UGA Extension has hosted kids cooking camps in northeast Georgia for more than 10 years.
However, in part because of the entertainment industry now associated with chefs, students are coming to the camps with more developed culinary skills and different interests, Aaron said.
“They’re coming in with more knowledge than they used to,” she said. “You don’t have to start from zero anymore, but there are some parts that they are missing.”
“I didn’t know there were so many rules,” said Jocelynn House, a sixth-grader and Kids Can Cook camper who loves to cook and to watch food competitions shows like “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”
Aaron used a curriculum developed by Kansas State Cooperative Extension to help teach the students about the fundamentals of food safety in a hands-on environment. She allows the 4-H members to work independently, but checks in to pepper them with vital information about the science of food safety while supervising their cooking.
Students took the food safety message to heart, and many planned on taking that message home with them.
“Between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, that’s the danger zone,” said Jonathon Jones, a sixth-grade Morgan County 4-H’er. “You can’t just touch it and know; you don’t know if that’s good enough, but some professional chefs don’t even use a thermometer.”
“They just say, ‘Oh, that’s cooked enough,’” scoffed Jones’ station partner, fifth-grader Addie Ignoffo, shaking her head. “You have to use a thermometer.”