PLYMOUTH -- Jarrett Young spends much of his time instructing teens enrolled in the culinary program at Plymouth Meeting’s Central Montco Technical High School. But when the regular academic year ends, the CMTHS teacher turns his attention to the novice chefs who attend the Create-a-Cook summer camps he and business partner Maria Crann began for middle-schoolers three years ago.
Last summer’s sessions were hugely popular with attendees at CMTHS’s Grab-a-Day Summer Activity Camp. Thanks to COVID-19, the CMTHS-based classes planned for this June-August – focused on everything from American Regional Classics and Comfort Food to Breakfast for Dinner, Farm to Table, Southern Italian Favorites and Mexican Cuisine – have gone by the wayside.
Regardless, Young and Crann are more than happy to suggest ways parents and other adults can introduce kids of nearly all ages to elementary cooking and baking at home.
Both are formally trained, but they trace their culinary roots to their own families’ kitchens. And although Crann recalls that watching her grandmother “cook homemade meals was inspiring” and triggered her desire to teach others how to cook, Young’s earliest culinary interests weren’t always…well, “appreciated.”
“My mother and grandmother would always kick me out of the kitchen,” the 1999 CMTHS grad jokes. “I never knew what was so important about the kitchen, but after joining (CMTHS Director Seth Schram, formerly an instructor in the school’s culinary department) on a tour at (CMTHS) for one day, I was hooked. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, I was kicking my mother and grandmother out of the kitchen to prepare meals for them.”
Popular Food Network host and celebrity chef Guy Fieri has said “cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes and cooking…it’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity.”
Young and Crann agree and call watching kids grow with each newly-acquired skill the “most rewarding” facet of their classes:
“When kids get involved in food preparation, they gain a sense of independence. It allows them to develop their creativity…bond with family and friends while giving them a sense of accomplishment. We love working with kids, and we believe it’s an important life skill for everyone. Starting at an early age, we hope they will carry these skills with them for the rest of their lives.”
To get started, the two advise “allowing kids to choose a menu and develop what they would like to prepare.” Easy kid-pleasers? Quesadillas, mac and cheese, baked egg rolls, cupcakes, granola and cookies.
Then, “let the kids choose which task they would also like to complete.”
“That also helps keep their attention span throughout the meal preparation,” Young says. “Getting them involved in the process from start to finish is key…using colorful foods and letting them go to the store with you to help pick out the ingredients.”
And for picky eaters? Young and Crann recommend baby steps.
“We encourage all of our students to try new foods,” he says. “Then, we coach them to see how they might change the dish to make it more appealing to their taste buds. We also try to introduce new foods with ones they’re already familiar with.”
Create-a-Cook’s partners believe the proliferation of televised cooking shows liked Chopped Junior and Top Chef Junior have definitely broadened kids’ interest in the kitchen.
“We’ve noticed how many students try to mimic the Top Chefs on TV and aspire to create dishes they’ve seen these chefs create,” Young says. “TV has helped expand culinary knowledge at an early age and helped pique interest in new ingredients they may have never seen or heard of previously. This summer, we planned on starting our own version of Top Chef Junior, which will now have to take place next summer.”
Young and Crann are optimistic their Create-a-Cook classes will be permitted to return to the CMTHS campus, 821 Plymouth Road, Plymouth Meeting, in 2021. For now, general information is available at www.createacookcamp.com, 610-500-3902, Facebook and Instagram.