There’s more to the Northern California Wine Country than just grapes and well-traveled families may know it better than any other visitors. While more and more wineries like Coppola, Castello di Amorosa and Chalk Hill are raising the bar when it comes to making wine country more family friendly, summer is the time of year when the area really heats up, especially if you’re a kid lucky enough to land a spot in the Kids’ Culinary Camps at Ramekins.
“This is your kitchen today,” said Lisa Lavagetto, Ramekins Chef Ambassador and Junior Chef’s Camps Instructor.
The four day camp is in some respects like a culinary tour around the world. During their week in the kitchen, teens learn how to prepare foods from Italy, Mexico and Asia. There’s also a day of baking, for those kids with a sweet tooth. Toss in knife skills and good sanitation habits and you’ve got the makings for some busy camp days in the kitchen. It’s designed for kids ages 13 through 17, but tweens with the skill and desire are also welcome.
Though a majority of the kids seem to live within an hour or two of the cooking school, teens far away from home are not unusual.
“She is an absolute addict of the Food Network,” said Bonnie Barnes, grandmother of 13 year-old Riley. Barnes lives in Atlanta but comes to visit her grandparents every summer. Junior Chef’s Camp was a Christmas present.
Lavagetto has a lesson plan of sorts for the camps she teaches, but they’re all subject to change after the first day, when she gets a true sense of the teens’ skill level. The more advanced the kids, the more advanced the culinary creations.
Along with the more obvious cooking lessons, some science sneaks into play when learning to work with yeast to make things like pizza and pasta dough.
“It’s the carbon dioxide that the yeast expels that makes your bread rise,” said Lavagetto to the group.
Why dough needs time to rest, what activates glutons and how to properly knead dough are things even many parents were never taught when they learned to cook.
Have you ever made pasta by hand? It’s an art in its own right, and watching 14 teenagers come together to makes the dough, run it through a hand cranked pasta machine and then turn the thin pasta sheets into stuffed ravoli is impressive. And yes, they also made the stuffing and red sauce that eventually wound up on top.
On the first day of camp, in addition to ravioli, the budding chefs made stromboli, lemon curd tarts and an appetizer of homemade ranch dressing with fresh veggies on the side. At times they were and made a mess. Some kids had flour on their faces and all over their originally black aprons, but they also did a pretty good job of cleaning up.
Mistakes were made. When preparing the ranch dressing, after mixing in fresh parsley, a couple kids realized chopping the leaves first might give them a better result. Fingers turned white as they pulled out leaves and put them back on the cutting board, to spend more time practicing their knife skills. It’s a mistake I doubt any of them will ever make again and the end result was something they all enjoyed.
“There’s a ton of food, so don’t feel bad if you can’t eat it all. We’ve got to go boxes, so you can take it home to share with your family,” said Lavagetto.
The camp runs from 9a-1pm, giving visiting parents some precious time to do something for and by themselves, like wine tasting. Another perk for parents is the leftovers. My daughter’s leftovers made up a big portion of dinner that evening.
Ramekins also offers summer Kids’ Culinary Camps designed for younger students ages 7-12 along with a kids’ cooking class every month. When the holidays roll around, kids can choose from sweet options like gingerbread house workshops, holiday cookie classes and brunch with Santa.
Parents can save a little gas and make the culinary getaway even sweeter by staying at The Inn at Ramekins above the cooking school. The small bed & breakfast has 6 rooms ranging from $225 to $325 per night.
Dana observed while her daughter was hosted by Ramekins for one day of the Junior Chef’s Camp, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
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