April 12, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence

Participants wear camouflage attire. They spend their days running through rigorous drills using knives and fire. They are 9- to 13-year-old boys and they are in boot camp. 4-H cooking boot camp.

Over the course of 15 hours, the cooking boot camp held by the Jessamine County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service brought young boys together in a fun, safe environment to learn basic culinary skills. The idea was born from embarrassment – the embarrassment typically felt by young boys when they’re around young girls.

Cathy Weaver, Jessamine County 4-H youth development agent, said she was approached last year by a parent who was looking for a cooking class for her son. “As it turns out, boys seem to be a little shy to do things in front of girls,” Weaver said. “They don’t want to learn new things in front of girls. So we offered it just for boys for that reason.”

Supported by grants from the Kentucky 4-H Foundation and the Jessamine County Beef Cattle Association, the enrollment fee for the three-day camp was kept low – $5. The boys were given official camouflage-patterned tee shirts with the boot camp logo emblazoned in orange across the front. Mornings were filled with “basic training,” where the boys learned important kitchen skills such as measuring, chopping and slicing. They put those new skills to use by preparing their own lunches. Then after lunch, everyone reported for “KP” (Kitchen Patrol). Throughout the three days they learned about the importance of washing hands and food safety.

The project was a cooperative effort by the entire Jessamine County Extension staff and combined the teaching skills of Weaver, 4-H assistant Abby Sorrell and Marisa FitzGerald, family and consumer sciences agent; the grilling skills of agriculture and natural resources agent Rob Amburgey; and the nutritional expertise of EFNEP assistant, Shellie Castle, along with support from the administrative staff members.

“We offered it as a 4-H program,” said Weaver, “but we’ve all really taken a role in the programming and teaching. We’ve taught a segment each day. Each portion of their meal, one of us has taken on to have the supplies ready and teach that aspect of the meal. Our secretaries have really stepped up to have things ready for us. So it’s really been a joint effort through the whole office.”

For their part, the boys were enthusiastic about learning new skills. Cameron Powell, 11, has been interested in cooking for a long time.

“I really love to cook and I really love this chef named Emeril Legasse. And ever since I was really little I really wanted to cook on the stove and stuff. My mom was really my inspiration,” he said.

Zach Powell, Cameron’s 13-year-old brother, figured his brother’s plan to take the course was a pretty good one.

“I thought if he’s going to try it, why don’t I try it?” he said. “I mean, it’d be good experience, learning how to cook, use knives and explore with different types of foods like we did today with the zucchini and stuff.”

Not only were cooking skills part of the routine, but boot camp “recruits” also had the opportunity to try some new types of food. The elder Powell found a new favorite when he tried a kiwi for the first time. “Now that I’ve tried it,” Zach said, “I think I’m going to buy it every day. It’s really good.”

Camp ended with the boys cooking a steak dinner for their families. Zach Powell was excited to show off his new skills to his family.

“I’ll show them how to dice; show them how to slice it. I’ll probably show them things that they never even heard of. This cooking idea was great!”

Girls needn’t feel left out. Weaver said they’ll be offering Cupcake Camp for fourth- and fifth-grade girls on Saturday, April 29, from 9 a.m. to noon. Participants will learn how to prepare, bake and decorate cupcakes using writing, borders and flowers. For more information call the Jessamine County Cooperative Extension office at (859) 885-4811.


Cathy Weaver (859) 885-4811