This summer, The Kosher Dinner Lady, Rachel Berger, offered two one-week sessions of her cooking camp. As explained by Berger, the camp is designed for children ages 8 to 14, with the goal of making participants comfortable in the kitchen and excited to experiment with ingredients.
Berger begins the camp week by teaching her students about proper knife techniques and the importance of following recipes’ instructions. Berger also teaches her students how to properly measure ingredients, such as flour and sugar. These techniques will change the quality and taste of the dish. Prior to beginning a recipe, Berger advises her students that one should always prep all ingredients; this will ensure that all ingredients are added to the recipe and at the correct stages of cooking. Another famous Kosher Dinner Lady piece of advice is to always wear an apron with a dish towel tucked in. This assists chefs in easy clean-ups and hand washing.
At the beginning of the program, each student receives a cookbook describing the week’s menu. “We have 4-5 recipes per day, which the kids have to prepare: from peeling and dicing to cooking and baking. We then eat what we make, as lunch and snack,” described Berger. Berger continued, “I hope the kids become adventurous with their food, from becoming more willing to taste new things to creating their own recipes.” A well-known requirement of cooking camp is that all the kids must at least try everything that is made. “I like to pick recipes that will give the kids an opportunity to be challenged with both taste and technique. While they are very comfortable with mac and cheese, I choose recipes like steamed vegetable and tofu dumplings. They have to prepare the vegetables, stuff the wonton wrappers and then steam them to cook. Most kids automatically say ‘Eww, I won’t eat that’ but are surprised when they see they like it,” said Berger. “I always tell the kids ‘be brave and adventurous!’ They are usually willing.”
Even though mostly girls attend the Kosher Dinner Lady’s camp, Berger explained, “I get one or two boys who express interest but they usually only want to come when there are other boys.” However, Berger continued, “One year I specifically held a boys boot camp and 13 boys participated. It was great!”
Thursday, the fourth day of camp is known as “Competition Day!” “The kids look forward to our ‘Chopped’ competition at the end of the week,” Berger described. “They are divided into teams, given a bag with four to five ingredients and told to create a dish. There are three rounds, appetizer, entree and dessert and they have 30 minutes to complete each round.” Berger reveals, “I invite three judges from the neighborhood to taste the food and pick a winner. The kids love it as it finally gives them the opportunity to use their skills and creativity. I am always amazed what they are able to come up with!”
Emma Hakimi, age 10, a second-time attendee, returned to camp this year, as she explained, “Because I loved it last year!” Emma continued, “I learned new skills in the kitchen, like how to use a knife and how to make a lot of new recipes.” Emma’s favorite recipes this year were the ramen bowl and spring rolls. Emma describes how her new confidence in the kitchen is due to camp: “The more I experiment with different recipes and different knife skills, I feel more comfortable making new foods.”
Fourth-grader Sydney Minkove said she attended cooking camp because, “I wanted to get better at cooking.” During her time at camp, Sydney explained, “I learned how to use knives, the stove, trying new things and having ‘mise en place,’ a French term for having all your ingredients in place before you start to cook.” Sydney’s favorite dish was the chilled avocado soup. Sydney proudly revealed, “Since I went to camp I made Dutch pancakes and other things all by myself!” Twelfth-grader Abby Minkove assisted in the second week of cooking camp. Abby summed up her experience by stating, “I enjoyed watching the kids become more confident in the kitchen especially with their knife skills.”
Berger believes that many kids return to camp each year because “I think they enjoy the ‘arts and crafts’ and creativity aspects of camp.” She continued, “Many like how they feel so competent and accomplished wielding a chef’s knife.” When asked if she would do a boot camp for adults, Berger declared, “Absolutely!”
By Judy Berger