Cooking Up a Creative Summer Camp

By Liz Sullivan, Bon Appétit Management Company project assistant

High school students aren't usually gung-ho about the idea of attending summer camp, but here's a new option that just might have them drooling.

The Culinary Institute at Penn is a hands-on summer program that is attracting students from all over the world. Applications for the program, which runs from July 4  to July 23, are accepted until June 1 — or until the program is full. 

PennBon Appétit Management Company, University of Pennsylvania, and Summer Discovery (which specializes in offering innovative summer camp programs on university campuses worldwide) have collaborated to launch the new, three-week program. It's geared to high school student interested in learning more about where their food comes from and its impact on the environment. Students will learn how to prepare healthy and delicious meals, and the important role food preparation plays in developing community.

Bon Appétit at Penn and Summer Discovery have created a full summer experience that goes beyond just learning how to cook. In addition to the nitty-gritty food safety, cooking, and baking skills behind food production, students will have the opportunity to meet new people, explore a new city, and learn more about sustainable food and farming. Participants live in residence halls and share evening and weekend activities with other Penn summer programs.

Monday through Thursday, students will spend half the day visiting markets and restaurants as well as attending seminars on nutrition, sustainability, and Bon Appétit's local food sourcing program, Farm to Fork. (The off-campus excursions, covered by the $5,000 all-inclusive tuition, give the students a chance to experience all the cultural and culinary wonders of Philadelphia.) The other half of the day will be spent preparing and cooking food, with practical demonstrations by local guest chefs.

Fridays will be spent visiting local farms and food processing plants. Participants will experience life on a farm — as much as one can in a day! — milking goats and cows, learning how to make cheese, and even making sausage from scratch. Touring food-processing plants will give students an understanding of what happens to food after it's grown but before it makes it to the grocery store shelves.

While dining with peers, students will be instructed in the proper etiquette in a formal dining situation.  The program will culminate with a final celebration dinner prepared by the students for friends and family, during which they will apply their new skills.

Students will be encouraged to express their individuality and bring an open mind to learning from others in the group. The food principles being taught are part of the Bon Appétit philosophy, and include cooking food from scratch with fresh, seasonal ingredients that were sourced within 150 miles of Philadelphia when possible. Participants will prepare food vibrant with flavor but without excess salt and fat, instead using herbs, spices and techniques to develop and enhance flavors. An emphasis on nutritious, whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and trans-fat free oils will allow the students to see the benefits of cooking from scratch over eating processed food.

The Bon Appétit team at Penn has been providing Penn students with fresh, flavorful, sustainably sourced meals since May 2009. The idea for the program came from Pamela Lampitt, generaager of conference services at Penn, who loved to cook as a teenager and decided to follow her passion to become a chef. "When I took over dining and conference services at Penn, I saw the opportunity to create a program that gives young people the chance to follow their real interests," Pamela said.

Bon Appétit at Penn approached Summer Discovery with the idea for the Culinary Institute as a joint effort to expand the university's community involvement and raise awareness of Bon Appétit at Penn's commitment to socially responsible food production. "This is the first program of its kind," said Paul Bulau, district manager and one of the creators of the program. "We wanted to make it about more than just learning how to cook; we wanted to help the students create community around food."

By getting out to the farms and into the kitchen, these students will be more inclined to make better choices and to educate their peers and family about the pleasure and rewards of fresh, local, cooked-from-scratch food. 

Photo Courtesy of Summer Discovery and University of Penn