From camper to junior chef, UAA’s Culinary Boot Camp teaches kids basic kitchen skills

Kids in white chef hats and a woman with black hair in a kitchen. There are large bowls on the counter.
Baking instructor Riza Brown helps campers with their cookie dough at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Culinary Boot Camp. The program costs $350 for a week-long course, and runs four times through the month of June. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Kids in tall white chef hats bustled around the industrial kitchen at the University of Alaska Anchorage on a recent morning, carrying giant metal mixing bowls. The air hummed with the sound of electric mixers. But one group was having a little trouble getting started.

Emmett Bartlett and Gabrielle Rhodes huddled around their mixer. They couldn’t figure out how to attach the beater, and accidentally spilled sugar all across the counter. Baking instructor Riza Brown stepped over to give them a hand.

“You wanna match it up with the groove that’s in here, and then you wanna lock it in,” she said, guiding the beater attachment into place.

Culinary Boot Camp is a summer program at UAA’s Community & Technical College for kids ages 11 to 17. They learn foundational cooking skills at the week-long camp, starting with kitchen safety and sanitation practices. The camp is split into two sections, cooking and baking.

The instructors are professors from UAA’s culinary arts program. They stick to easy baked goods and simple meals so the kids can focus on learning the process and tools of the kitchen. Brown said working with younger kids is a nice change of pace.

“We want them to be professional in what they do, so that’s why we use simple recipes, but they are using adult equipment,” she said. “And it’s really cute because there’s little tiny 11 year olds with gigantic bowls and spatulas.” 

In the other room, 18 kids in the cooking section were learning how to cut and marinate meat for their steak and chicken fajitas. Every day, the cooking group makes lunch for everybody, and the baking group makes dessert. Any leftovers get sent home with the campers, which the instructors said is always a hit with the parents.

The culinary college is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Every year, graduates head off to work as line cooks and head chefs. The summer camp started two decades ago to raise awareness for the college program. The dean, Raymond Weber, said it’s also a way to teach members of the community important life skills. He said the kids are learning more than just how to cook.

“They’re going to learn the different steps that can be used for almost anything, if you think about it, in life,” said Weber. “If you can cook, you can measure, you can clean, you can coordinate, you can set up a plan, you can run through it. So these are just base level skills that indirectly influence everything a person does.”

A teenager in a white chef's coat and hat stands at a kitchen counter, with a mixing bowl and sifter.
Kawika Khachadoorian sifts dry ingredients for snickerdoodles at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Culinary Boot Camp on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Culinary Boot Camp is open to a range of skill levels. While some kids are just starting out, the camp is also an opportunity for more experienced kids to see what working in a professional kitchen is like.

Kawika Khachadoorian is 16, and already has experience baking. He said the camp is a great way to do what he loves in a more professional setting.

“Everything’s where it’s supposed to be, and you have everything. So many times I’ve been baking at my house and I’ve been like, oh, we don’t have flour,” he said.

Khachadoorian  said he’s looking at UAA for college and might consider enrolling in the culinary arts program.

On the other side of the room, Bartlett and Rhodes had their mixer working. They studied their recipe sheet, reading it out loud together. They were making white chocolate chip cookies, Rhodes said. This was news to Bartlett.

“I thought we were making brownies!” he said. Rhodes reassured her partner.

“It’s okay to be confused,” she said. “That’s why we’re taking the class – to get better.”

Despite their professional surroundings, most of the kids are still figuring things out. And that’s the point. It didn’t take long before Bartlett and Rhodes  had a batch of white chocolate chip cookie dough, ready for the oven. 

Dev Hardikar is Alaska Public Media's 2023 summer news intern. Reach him at dhardikar@alaskapublic.org.

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