Each summer, kids as young as 8 years old flock to Pikesville to learn how they can cook like their favorite chef on TV at For the Love of Food’s Kids Cook camp. They spend weeks at a time learning how to cut, mix, sauté and bake along with several other kitchen skills.
For the Love of Food began in September 2000 in the home of Diane Bukatman, where she would teach pastry classes to groups of four. Over time her class size grew to eight due to word of mouth, and she found herself teaching classes on six nights a week. It was at that point she decided to start teaching classes for kids on Sunday afternoons.
“I realized that there was a real need,” she said. “At the time, there were no other kids’ classes.”
Bukatman later expanded this offering from once a week to holidays and finally to a full-scale Kids Cook camp in 2003.
“The very first summer that I offered it, all the weeks filled up within months, and there was such a need for it. [It] was such a niche that everyone was looking for,” she said.
Offerings ranged from the basic “How to Think Like a Chef” course, which involved learning basic kitchen skills, to the more advanced “Around the World in Five Days,” featuring cuisines from around the globe.
“We had kids with a lot of varying skills,” she said. “We recommended that if they had little to no skills that they start out with the ‘How to Think Like a Chef’ series [which features] a full day of knife skills, kitchen safety, kitchen sanitation — basically all the things you need to know to be safe in the kitchen.”
They have the exposure due to the television shows and things of that nature so they have an educated palate but an uneducated way of looking at food.
— Chef Thomas Casey
The second year of the camp, registration had filled up by the preceding January, and Bukatman said to herself, ‘OK, we have something here.’ After moving the camp into a building on Reisterstown Road, the weeklong sessions expanded to 12 kids, and later to 15. Bukatman said 70 percent take multiple sessions, and some have taken as many as four in order to bone up on their culinary skills.
“They might have learned how to sauté and they want to keep learning how to sauté, but they want to learn how to sauté different foods and different sauces and different techniques,” she said. “They were really pretty good at knowing what they could and couldn’t do.”
Bukatman moved to Evergreen, Colo., two years ago, where she started a second chapter of For the Love of Food. She sold her original business to Chef Thomas Casey, who formerly worked at Four Seasons and The Grill at Harryman House as executive chef. Casey continues to teach “How to Think Like a Chef” and other originals, but he also tries to include an educational component about where food comes from and the science involved in cooking.
“We don’t bore them, but we let them know how food works,” he said. “And we remind them of the relationship of food to science studies and math studies.”
This summer, Casey is teaching eight weeklong classes between June and August, broken into age groups of 8 through 12 and 13 through 17. He said the classes have a fairly even gender ratio and many kids come in having learned a certain degree of food knowledge from celebrity chefs.
“They have the exposure due to the television shows and things of that nature, so they have an educated palate but an uneducated way of looking at food,” he said.
For the Love of Food is an opportunity for kids to exercise their inner chef well before culinary school. Katie Halushka, 14, caught the cooking bug from watching cooking shows with her mom when she was 8.
“This is what I like to do. I like to put things together that taste good,” she said.
Katie has taken Casey’s summer camp and last week took a one-day pasta course in which she learned to make tortellini and gnocchi. She said his hands-on approach to the camp has helped develop her appetite to become a chef.
“Chef Thomas is really nice, and he understands kids and how they want to do things,” she said. “During the camps he just kind of gives you a recipe and lets you go with it.”
Katie has applied to the culinary program at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology and created a garnish as part of the interview process last weekend, which she learned through an instructional YouTube video and advice from Casey. She finds out in March whether she has been accepted.
Her mother, Amy Rosewater Halushka, said she scoured the Internet searching for opportunities for her daughter to quench her thirst for cooking during the summer. She said Katie is already at the stage of cooking entire dinners for the family and needed a more advanced camp. After finding For the Love of Food, Halushka decided the drive from Lutherville would be worth it.
“Katie’s done two camps there,” she said. “She did a general cooking camp, and then she did a pastry camp last year for a week.”
Halushka thinks cooking shows have made the activity much more palatable than was the case a generation ago.
“I grew up with the Easy-Bake Oven, and that was it,” she said. “But Katie always wanted to be involved.”
Halushka said the parents get to taste the kids’ food on the last day of camp, and she herself took one of Casey’s sushi courses with her mother, who was visiting from Cleveland. She said Casey also made hors d’oeuvre for a fundraiser at the Bolton Street Synagogue, which they attend.
“He enjoys doing it, and I know he does it at a pretty high level,” she said of Casey. “He’s so good with the kids. He doesn’t make it competitive like these talk shows.”