Food Column: Kids learn to cook at Camp Delicious

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It's that time of the year when parents start trying to figure out what their kids are going to do over the summer. Day camp? Sleep-away camp? A summer job?

This year there's a brand-new option in the Pittsburgh area: Camp Delicious, a weeklong day program for students entering grades 8 through 12.

Students will cook, take field trips and generally learn to mix it up in the kitchen, with an emphasis on fun, inventiveness and, above all, deliciousness.

The camp is organized by Luminari, a nonprofit group seeking to broaden minds and promote community engagement. Thus far, the organization has focused on teen programming, but this is the first year for a cooking-themed activity.

Luminari founder Hilda Pang Fu said she's been thinking about a cooking camp for several years because, as a Cantonese Chinese woman, she comes "from a culture where people live to eat."

And while there are plenty of cooking shows and cookbooks out there, and plenty of emphasis on health and nutrition, Ms. Fu thought there needed to be more emphasis on hands-on inventiveness and creativity.

She hopes this camp will teach kids to eat healthfully because of the emphasis on farm- and garden-grown ingredients, but she wants to put the focus on deliciousness and not be "preachy."

So she hired Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, to head up the camp. Ms. Bonci is planning field trips to a local farm, a grocery store (for shopping tips) and Phipps Conservatory's edible gardens, where students will likely enjoy an outdoor lunch on Flagstaff Hill.

Home base will be Rodef Shalom in Oakland, which has a big enough kitchen space for hands-on cooking with the ingredients campers bring back from their travels.

Ms. Bonci has all sorts of activities up her sleeve: identifying whether the campers are "super tasters," teaching knife skills and pizza-tossing, analyzing how ingredients change through various methods of preparation (example: kale chips versus kale smoothies). Campers will learn to make dishes for every meal of the day under the tutelage of Lisa Silberg, personal chef and owner of Intellectual Nutrition (intellectualnutrition.net). See post-gazette.com/food for a recipe for Almond-Honey Power Bars, a snack the campers will prepare.

On the last day, the students will travel to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's kitchen space to cook a graduation dinner -- with a menu of their own choosing -- for their families.

This year's pilot program is limited to 15 campers. It will be held July 7-11, from approximately 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $250 before May 1 and $270 thereafter; scholarships are available. For more information, go to campdelicious.org.

Ms. Bonci is enthusiastic about this program in part because she sees many "domestically disabled" athletes in her regular practice.

"In my ideal world, people would all graduate from high school with their CAT (Culinary Aptitude Test)."

Demos/classes

Physical Fitness & Eating Clean: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at Pittsburgh Public Market, Strip District. Free.

American Heritage Chocolate Demonstration: Mars Chocolate representatives will demonstrate bean-to-beverage chocolate making using historic techniques; observers will be able to taste an American heritage chocolate drink. 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Woodville Plantation, Collier. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 6 to 12, and free for younger children. woodvilleplantation.org.

Charitable events

Quality of Life Services Spring Cook-Off: QLS long-term care facilities have recruited culinary talents for a showdown at this event featuring sliders and slaws, an Elvis impersonator and a fun '50s theme. 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at The Chadwick, McCandless. $20. 724-687-0707.

Grapevine: Wine sampling, hors d'oeuvres, Melting Pot chocolate fountain, auction, mystery wine sale and magician. 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at Olive or Twist, Downtown. $50 per person if you order tickets today; $65 per person starting Friday, April 18; $35 for designated drivers. Proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish. 412-471-9474.

Taste the Good Life: Wine, spirits and food stations. 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, May 1, at DiSalvo's Station Restaurant, Latrobe. $135 per person (more after April 25); proceeds benefit Homeless Veterans Community Integration Program. tastethegoodlife.org or 724-539-0500.

Contest

Slow Food Speakeasy: Those ages 21 and up may enter this cocktail competition. Submit an original cocktail recipe that showcases any product listed on the Ark of Taste USA online catalog (slowfoodusa.org/ark-of-taste-in-the-usa) by Wednesday, April 30, online at slowfoodusa.org/slow-food-speakeasy. Winners will travel to Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy, Oct. 23-27.

Almond-honey power bars

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon flaxseeds

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal

1/3 cup each dried currants, chopped dried apricots and chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1/4 cup or less turbinado sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.

Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, currants, apricots and raisins; toss to combine.

Combine the almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

Pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until combined completely. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into bars.

Makes 8 bars.

-- Lisa Silberg, Intellectual Nutrition


Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.

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