Expertise on menu: Smith Voc culinary camp draws students hungry for knowledge

  • Chef Nelson Lacey works with Chloe Comerford Hennessey, during the summer culinary camp offered at Smith Vocational. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Trevor Ciaglo, 13, of Northampton, measures separated eggs whites for almond crescent cookies during the summer culinary camp at Smith Vocational. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dalia Dembling,13, of Northampton, works on making turnovers during the summer culinary camp offered at Smith Vocational. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tyrese Cordova, 16, of Northampton, stirs up some ice tea at the culinary camp.

  • Chef Nelson Lacey works with Abby Burgess, 14, of Sunderland, making potato pancakes during the summer culinary camp at Smith Vocational. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Elliott Gomes,14, of Northampton and Abby Burgess,14, of Sunderland make potato pancakes during the summer culinary camp offered at Smith Vocational. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sammy Ma'ayan,13, of New Mexico, works on making turnovers during the summer culinary camp offered at Smith Vocational. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2019 11:10:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The kitchen at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School was bustling Wednesday morning. Eight middle school students in tall white chef hats chopped vegetables, mixed batters and brushed pastries with egg as part of a four-day summer enrichment program.

On this day, they were preparing for the culmination of the week: a feast for their family and friends Thursday night.

Nelson Lacey, culinary arts department head at the school, started the program with grant funding just over a decade ago and it quickly grew in popularity.  

“The program just exploded. We were filling up every year,” he said.

There are several sessions of the camp this summer, and this week’s program is for more experienced students who have done the program before. It’s the only session that will host a dinner showcase. In four days, the young people work on designing and printing a menu, cooking all the food and then preparing the dining room for their guests. The program is for middle school students. 

At a table under a hanging rack of shredders, ladles, spatulas and other tools, several students worked over pastry dough, spooning in colorful fruit filling into the center and folding them into turnovers, complete with neat fork marks on the ends.

“I like to cook and bake and make dinner for my family sometimes,” said Josephine Hopkins, a rising eighth grader at JFK Middle School, as she placed a dollop of blueberry filling into an unbaked turnover. “It’s mostly a hobby for me.”

Her favorite food to prepare at camp is fresh pasta, a task she also did last year in the summer program.

“A lot of kids are told to stay out of the kitchen,” said Kim Keough, a Smith Vocational paraeducator who has been helping with the summer camp for seven years. “I love watching the kids gain such confidence in themselves.”

Heidlex Tyrese Cordova, a rising tenth grader in the Smith Vocational culinary arts track, is also assisting with the program. On Monday, he recalled, 46 mini cheesecakes were in process when someone turned the stove fan on too high, shaking the pan and ruining the dessert. They had to re-make the treats.

“It was funny, but they learned,” Cordova said.

“I’m making potato pancakes,” said Abby Burgess of Sunderland, with a giant bowl of shredded potatoes before her. The students made some yesterday but decided to whip up more.

“They’re going to be very popular,” said Burgess, a self-described “science person” and rising freshman at Frontier Regional High School.

“Cooking is basically a science. It’s very satisfying to me,” she said.

Burgess then mixed in cheese, flour and bacon into the bowl of potatoes, and the smell of the meat wafted through the room.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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