Something happens every summer in the Culinary Teen Camps at Wegmans Food Markets that you probably have to see to believe. When teenage boys and girls spend a week alongside a professional chef learning to slice, dice, grill, stir-fry, pan-sear and prep for a party, they discover a confidence in the kitchen and passion for cooking some didn’t know they had. A few campers also discover their future: Since the program began in 2007, a number of Culinary Camp grads have enrolled at leading professional culinary schools, have started working at jobs in the food world - or both.
To date, 567 teens have completed one of the camps held by Wegmans in the Rochester and Buffalo area.
To encourage students each year, Wegmans also hosts an essay contest to choose one scholarship winner from the Rochester area and one from the Buffalo area. This year’s essay question was “What has inspired you to want to learn more about cooking?” A Wegmans panel named 15-year-old Rebecca from Penfield a winner for her essay about cooking lessons she created to teach neighborhood girls more about cooking. The panel selected a 15-year-old named Claire from East Aurora as the Buffalo-area winner for her essay on how a business class she took made her realize that the business she’d like to create would be healthy cooking classes. Both winners will join Culinary Camp 1 this summer.
Spaces are still available in the Culinary Teen Camps, and applications are taken until the camps are full.
At the Pittsford store on Monroe Avenue, Culinary Teen Camp 1 will be held these weeks:
Pittsford will also host Culinary Teen Camp 2 from July 21-25, open to teens who have completed Culinary Teen Camp 1. Executive Chef Mark Makovec – the familiar face in more than 90 Wegmans videos about cooking techniques– leads the classes. Open to those aged 12 to 18, the cost for the week is $450 per teen.
At the Wegmans Sheridan Drive store in Williamsville, NY there will be a Culinary Teen Camp 1 from July 14-July 18 led by Executive Chef Jeff Lunney. Open to those aged 12 to 18, the cost for the week is $450 per teen.
“The most exciting thing is seeing the difference this experience makes for campers,” says Angela Volta, cooking school manager at Wegmans. “A few kids already have a fair amount of cooking experience at home – maybe they start dinner for the family before their parents get home from work. Kids like this are primed to take their skills to the next level and get excited about adding to the dishes they already know how to make. Other kids have watched the Food Network but want some hands-on practice with a real chef. We do a short presentation in all of the camps on culinary careers, to help kids realize that if they enjoy working with food, there are dozens of different kinds of jobs out there that they might like and be good at.”
In camp, the hands-on activities help to
- Increase confidence through mastery of several cooking techniques
- Expand awareness of a wider range of foods, resources and tools available
- Improve organizational and teamwork skills in the kitchen
Most mornings, students watch the chef demonstrate a culinary technique such as pan-searing to make a dish like Salmon Puttanesca and they taste the results. Then students practice the same technique with different recipes – like Pork Tenderloin with Raisin Black Pepper Sauce or Chicken Marsala, which they’ll eat for lunch.
Most afternoons include a lesson in a different culinary skill and a visit to one of the departments in the store. On a trip to the produce department, for example, campers may learn about how to tell a ripe avocado for tonight’s dinner from an avocado that will be ripe in a few days. In the meat department, they’ll learn the difference between a cut for grilling versus a cut for braising or roasting.
Toward week’s end, campers plan what they’ll serve for the graduation party and each invite a guest. They’re in charge of recipe selection, shopping, cooking and setting the room. The student-prepared menu has a wide variety of items like Cedar Plank Salmon, Asparagus Jicama Salad, and Mojo Marinated Pork Tenderloin. “This is also when the teens learn the art of being a gracious host,” Volta says. “We talk about how serving others food and drink is part of good hospitality – showing others that you want them to be comfortable and enjoy themselves. When we see the campers pouring a drink of sparkling grape juice for their guest and our chef, we know they’ve learned that lesson.”
Culinary Teen Camp 2 also features demos, hands-on practice sessions, and a graduation party like the introductory camp, but many dishes, like pastries or Sushi, call for more familiarity with cooking techniques. Also, teens in Camp 2 prepare to give a cooking lesson as part of the graduation party.
“We find that as we introduce teens to new foods that they prepare themselves, they often like something they may not have tried before. It’s all about trying new foods, building confidence in the kitchen and of course, lots of fun!” says Volta.