By Chef Kenzie Osborne, Rooks to Cooks

After an intensive summer of teaching our young chefs the basics of cooking, and watching as they gobble up their delicious creations, the chef instructors finally have the chance to take a step back and let the kids take the lead! The final two weeks of the Rooks to Cooks summer camps feature some of the most entertaining, challenging, and inspiring culinary competitions: Iron Chef, Cake Boss, and Chopped! Instead of the instructors guiding the young chefs through each and every step, the camp staff become the students and watch the kid’s creativity lead them to create innovative and imaginative dishes (ones that we would never have come up with ourselves!).

Day 1 was no easy task but the young chefs proved that their culinary talent was on par with experienced chefs! They tackled some difficult dishes including a Tuscan stew, homemade pita bread, ooey-gooey chocolate cake, and the dreaded risotto. I only say “dreaded” because it takes years of practice to perfect – the taste is anything BUT dreadful – YUM! For lunch, our chefs enjoyed a piece of their pita bread (okay, maybe they enjoyed multiple pieces…) and a big ‘ol bowl of comforting Tuscan stew. They loved the warming flavours and sweet vegetables in the stew, and they couldn’t get enough of those fluffy and delicate pita breads! In fact, many of the campers had second and third helpings of pita bread. Inspired by their love of the bread, I challenged our young chefs to come up with a variety of toppings that they could put on their pitas at home. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Hummus
  • Chicken or ham and cheese
  • Avocado and salsa
  • Tzatziki
  • Butter chicken
  • Grilled pineapples
  • Pulled pork
  • Assorted fruits – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mango slices
  • Chef Rebecca: Ricotta, peaches, and honey
  • Chef Kenzie: Sun-dried tomatoes, basil, grilled chicken, and goat cheese

In addition to the daily nutrition challenge, our young chefs also surprised us with their takes on risotto. For the Risotto Challenge, they were tasked with creating their own original recipes – flavoured with herbs, spices, and vegetables of their choice! Many of the chefs loved adding in some greens and decided to top off their dishes with chives, parsley, and rosemary. A few of our chefs sprinkled in a few dashes of cinnamon or paprika to add a pop of spice and interesting flavours. Others decided to go with more traditional and subtle flavours by sautéing some carrots and onions to add layers of sweetness to the typically salty and cheesy dish. We were all amazed by their innovative Risotto creations, and to be honest, I was even more excited to try the meals they’d be preparing for the rest of the week (finally, the instructors get to join in on the tasting!!)

Day 2 rolled around and it was time for our chefs to show us their creative side in the Cake Boss challenge! After indulging in a deliciously rich lunch – chicken cacciatore, creamy polenta, and garden salad – our young chefs put their cake decorating skills to the test! From floating gummy bears to beautiful roses to lighthouses, our chefs proved that their decorating skills were WAYYYYY better than just a simple iced cake (take a look at some of these amazing cakes below!). The judges (chefs) were so amazed by the results that we could hardly choose a winner – every single team “won” in a specific category. Some displayed incredible creativity, while others showed exceptional teamwork or technique! As always, we were so happy to work with all the campers this week – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where their culinary journey leads them!

After covering ourselves in a little too much icing, we all sat down for a good ‘ol huddle and moved onto our nutrition challenge: Toppings / mix-ins for Polenta. We had a good mix of sweet and savoury ideas – and they all sounded AMAZING (full honesty, I have polenta every single day, and I know these ideas are going to be ones I try out ASAP). Check out the campers suggestions:

  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • Parmesan and potatoes
  • Sausage and tomatoes
  • Chives and thyme
  • Spaghetti sauce and chicken pieces
  • Polenta tart with berries (could be great for those who are lactose intolerant or dairy free!)
  • Cheese, chives, and tomatoes
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted almonds, and walnuts
  • Mushrooms and asparagus
  • Baked bacon bits
  • Yogurt
  • Lentils
  • Spices, chives, parsley, and pulled pork
  • Cheese, peas, potatoes, and chicken
  • Cheddar cheese, bacon bits, green beans
  • Chef Kenzie: dark chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, honey, and toasted coconut

Day 3 and 4 featured two extremely challenging competitions: Iron Chef and Chopped! These difficult tasks proved to be much easier than expected as our chefs banded together and worked as teams to come up with some incredible dishes. For our Iron Chef competition, our chefs-in-training had to use the secret ingredient lentils as the ‘star’ of their dish. They weren’t too enthusiastic by this “bland” ingredient, but boy did they make it work. We had some imaginative and flavourful dishes including:

  • lime and lentil mash
  • lentil falafel
  • lentil coconut curry
  • lentil risotto
  • lentil turmeric tortilla wrap

By the end of the day, our young chefs were learning to love lentils – which just goes to show that the key to enjoying healthy food is creativity and good cooking!

After discovering what our young chefs could make with lentils, we were SO excited to see what they could do with our Chopped! basket. Our chefs were challenged to use the following 5 secret ingredients in their dishes: an orange, a bag of corn chips, a sweet potato, a boiled chicken breast, and a zucchini. They were given 45 minutes to make a dish of their choice that incorporated all 5 ingredients in some way. Once again, our teams of chefs worked together perfectly to create some stellar dishes, including the following:

  • Sweet potato orange dip, lime and zucchini dip, sautéed chicken and corn chips
  • Orange, lime, sweet potato and chicken stir fry with crumbled corn chips and fried zucchini
  • Chicken and lentil stew with zucchini, orange, and lime. Served with corn chips and sautéed sweet potato.
  • Chicken, zucchini and green apple tomato sauce on top of vermicelli noodles. Served with a side of sweet potato fries (the idea of an apple and tomato sauce caught me off guard, but it was surprisingly tasty – the sweet and tart notes from the apple paired brilliantly with the chicken and tomato sauce – who would’ve known?)
  • Chicken noodle soup with zucchini, sweet potato, orange juice, and lime zest. Served with corn chips for crumbling on top.

YUM!! The instructors were definitely fed well, and we loved every single bite. Personally, I was most inspired by the teams’ ability to work together so well and encourage each other through every step of cooking. This week taught me that when you put a team of talented minds together, you can truly accomplish anything. Prior to the Iron Chef and Chopped challenges, I had no idea that we would taste such incredible dishes. I thought there may be some disagreements among the young chefs during the planning process and I wondered if the teams would have enough time to finish their dish. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did every team finish in the time allotted, but they also created some innovative and tasty dishes AND they COMPLETELY cleaned their stations before time was up. Our chefs were so passionate about cooking, and they were always eager to start the day. Great work!!

Each week we are so thrilled to work with our chefs-in-training! They consistently ask great questions, offer to help out, and share some incredible culinary ideas with us. I really feel like I’ve become the student – I have learned so much and I have plenty of inspiration for some upcoming meals! I hope you have the opportunity to cook with your young chef and learn a few of their tips and tricks! From all of us at Rooks to Cooks, we thank you for joining us throughout this fun and flavourful week, and we look forward to seeing you again soon!

** If you have specific questions regarding the nutritional information of a meal (or you would like to know how to make substitutions for vegan, gluten-free, or other dietary restrictions), feel free to reach out to me (Chef Kenzie) by sending an email to: kenzieosborne08@gmail.com. If you are interested in more general nutritional information, head over to my personal blog at: thrivingonnature.wordpress.com