NORTH WALES -- The coronavirus stole the opportunity for many kids to go to camp this summer. Laila Caldwell, a new 5th grader joining Agnes Irwin School for girls, decided to make up for that loss, setting up a virtual cooking "camp" with a few new classmates on Zoom.

Her mother, Ashley Caldwell, said, “it was a great way for Laila to get to know a few students before school started and she loves to cook! She even started her own mini bakery!” After finishing virtually last school year, Allie Bernert, Mikayla Bellamy, Laila Caldwell, Natalie Johnson and Sarai Salmons were thrilled at the opportunity to connect, get to know their new classmate and cook.

Ahead of each session, one of the girls would volunteer as top chef, sending out an ingredient list a few days ahead, and lead the group through the recipe. The team has family dinners under their belt: Mexican street tacos, Rasta pasta, cauliflower soup, as well as desserts: S’mores, banana bread, home-made ice cream, peanut butter oat bars, chocolate covered strawberries and brownies.

Chef and Pâtissier Dennis Darr, owner of Alice's Bakery & Confectionery in North Wales, surprised the group by hosting the final session at his bakery. Darr has cooked for distinguished people including President Barack Obama, Robert Redford, Lisa Ling, and Al Roker, and while at Table 52 in Chicago, was featured in one of the final Oprah Winfrey shows.

Darr spoke to the group about financial literacy, reducing waste, community stewardship, pursuing their passions and the value of education before leading them through kitchen safety, baking techniques, and Alice’s Bakery recipes. In an afternoon, the group made plain, glazed and chocolate croissants, created naan pizzas, filled chocolate-dipped cannoli, and frosted cupcakes with a Halloween theme. 

Having young children himself, Darr said, “When I heard of what these girls were doing all by themselves and realizing how difficult it must be for this age during this pandemic, it made me excited to do something special for them. This community has always been great to my family and me. I love the opportunity to pay it forward.” 

Alice's Bakery is well known in the North Wales area for high quality, fresh baked breads (including vegan bread) and pastries, and custom cakes made without preservatives and a popular lunch menu. The North Wales location is open Wednesday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with outdoor seating available. Patrons may also order lunch to go at AliceBakery.com.

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