(12/05/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — A group of 27 campers from across the state recently received a lesson in Louisiana cooking and history.
The LSU AgCenter Camp Culinary, held Nov. 21 to 22 at the Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center near Pollock, introduced the youth participants to a broad array of introductory cooking skills and techniques, which also included many different types of kitchen tools and equipment, said Adam O’Malley, 4-H program coordinator.
“This practical knowledge will surely benefit these 9-to-13-year-old youths as they further prepare to become independent young adults,” he said.
This camp was one of many opportunities for LSU AgCenter staff in family and consumer sciences to partner with 4-H staff to teach lessons on nutrition.
“This partnership stemmed from an initial program consultation from Mrs. Quincy Vidrine who was, at the time, the FCS regional coordinator for the Central Region,” O’Malley said. “The team has grown since that first meeting.”
“The agents and camp coordinator involved in this endeavor work very hard to make sure this experience is one-of-a-kind and that the kids will always remember their time spent learning their way around the kitchen,” Vidrine said.
Vidrine, along with the rest of the FCS team, brings invaluable experience and knowledge to the planning and implementation of the program.
“Our team at the Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center could not be more thankful for this partnership, and we are already discussing several other projects for the future,” he said.
Vidrine said the goal for the campers is to help them be self-sufficient and able to cook and assemble meals for themselves as they grow into independent young adults.
“This is something our younger generation lacks at this time,” she said. “We give them the tools they need to eat healthier by producing wholesome meals for themselves and their families.”
Vidrine said knife skills and cracking eggs are always the most exciting for the kids.
“Something we really try hard to do is expose the kids to as many different kitchen tools and cooking tools as we possibly can,” Vidrine said. “They left Camp Culinary knowing how to use an electric pressure cooker, a griddle, a stand mixer, an electric skillet, knives, peelers, graters and most importantly — how to clean as you go and wash dishes.”
One of the most important lessons for them going forward is handwashing and how important food safety is in day-to-day kitchen tasks and food preparation.
“Whenever we see a kid touch their face, hair or anything that may have germs or cross contaminate, we immediately ask them to pause their tasks and go wash hands,” she said. “While this seemed to be annoying and frustrating to them at first, they quickly realized that it was very important and would constantly be enforced.”
Jennifer Duhon, FCS coordinator for the Central Region, said wanted the students to leave with a better understanding of the importance that food plays in preserving cultures and the diverse backgrounds that came together to make Louisiana a melting pot.
“Culture is influenced by food through various ways like tradition, religion and family,” Duhon said. “The students learned about our rich culinary history and then came together to prepare these dishes that made Louisiana.”
An exciting part of the camp is teaching knife skills and preparing them to use chef knives, she said.
“Knife safety is taught from the beginning, and each agent reinforces throughout the camp,” Duhon said. “To the agents, the most exciting thing is to see these students’ confidence grow throughout the camp and hearing that they that can’t wait until next year.”
For Vidrine, this has been a career dream fulfilled.
“I’m so very proud of this program and excited for what is to come of it,” she said.
In the future, she would like to expand to include cuisines from around the world and possibly offer camps that parents and children can participate in together.
“I would also like to offer an advanced version of Camp Culinary with admission criteria being to have had to attend at least one of the beginner level camps,” she said.
Others participating in the camp were Kimberlyn Jones, AgCenter area nutrition agent in the Northwest Region, and Breanna Staab, area nutrition agent for St. Landry and Point Coupee parishes. Jones is a formally trained chef, and she taught the knife skills part of the class.
MLee Sonnier, who attends St. Anthony Catholic School in Bunkie, eats her focaccia bread topped with veggies. Focaccia is part of the Italian influence on Louisiana cuisine. Photo by Quincy Vidrine/LSU AgCenter
Kimberlyn Jones teaches a knife skills session during a recent culinary camp. She instructed the campers to hold their knives like a bicycle handle so that they have a safe grip on the knife. Photo by Quincy Vidrine/LSU AgCenter