- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DAVIDSONVILLE, Md. (AP) | Drop the s’more and take that hot dog off the stick - one of the hottest trends in summer camp has children whipping up haute cuisine.

From rec-department classes to $2,650-a-week chef training for teens, camps nationwide are offering cooking classes with - or sometimes in place of - canoeing and other more traditional camp activities.

“All of a sudden, everyone’s interested in cooking,” said Melissa Owens, a former restaurant owner who started the Deliciously Nutritious camp this summer in Davidsonville. Her first session filled up with 11 children, ages 6 to 11, without even appearing in Anne Arundel County’s initial camp guide.

Leading the children through the final touches of apple-carrot-flaxseed muffins, Miss Owens asks them what recipes they want to learn before camp ends , and there’s not a grilled cheese in the bunch. The children can julienne and whip their own cream, and they’ve got plans to make chocolate mousse and crepes.

“I want to be a chef,” declares Asya Proctor, 10, whose grandmother signed her up for the camp because Asya calls Food Network star Rachael Ray her “hero.”

The camps are part of an overall trend of children becoming serious consumers of “foodie” culture. The microwave generation is giving way to children raised on the Food Network and celebrity chefs.

The children’s interest has caught even some professional chefs off guard.

“I don’t know if it’s the Food Network or what, but there are kids who show up already knowing how to make a hollandaise sauce, and 10 years ago, they wouldn’t even know what that was,” said Kelly Dietrich, founder of Kids Culinary Cooking Camp in Highgate, Vt., where parents spend up to $2,650 a week to send their children to learn advanced techniques.

The sleepover camp started five years ago for boys and girls ages 10 to 16, and it’s so popular that the camp started this summer offering higher-end skills such as growing shiitake mushrooms and raising seafood. “We’ve seen a huge growth in interest” and campers coming from as far away as South Africa and Japan, Mr. Dietrich said.

The trend has been noticed by traditional summer camps, where culinary skills once were limited to roasting weiners or marshmallows over a fire.

“Many of our camps are adding cooking as an elective,” said Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the Indiana-based American Camp Association, which includes 2,600 camps. “Kids are definitely concerned about nutrition. Cooking is a great opportunity to have fun with your friends. And you get to eat what you make. It’s not like the art project that just sits there on the shelf.”

Parents worried about poor nutrition and childhood obesity are thrilled to cultivate their children’s interest, camp instructors say.

“Parents kept saying, ‘Oh, do you offer anything for kids?’ ” said Diane Bukatman, a personal chef from Reisterstown who started Kids Cook camps in her kitchen. “We sort of did it as a lark to try it seven years ago, and it filled up instantly without us even advertising it.”

Miss Bukatman has expanded her day camp to eight summer sessions, with most weeks having 14 children instead of the 12 for which she planned. She now offers specialty weeks in pastry and ethnic cooking and lessons during the school year.

Just a couple days into the Deliciously Nutritious camp, A.J. Jones, 9, went home and started a family tradition: eating supper with his parents. He even made the pasta salad.

“It’s normally my dad in the family room, my mom standing up and I’m at the counter,” he said. “Some nights, my mom will sit at the counter with me, but now, starting a couple nights ago, we’re having family dinners.”

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