Last Friday I had the pleasure of being invited by Sage Culinary Studio owner Catherine deCamp to judge a sort of Iron Chef-style competition among eight 11- to 14-year-olds in one of her summer camps for cooks-in-training.
The kids had been plugging away at recipe after recipe for an entire week, only to come in Friday, get handed an arm-full of the secret ingredient (apples!) and cook for two long, smoldering hours for three women they'd never met.
These women were not to be idle masticators, eating the food as guests. Oh, no. We were judges, and Catherine had prodded us to criticize freely.
Poor Catherine. She really shouldn't have done that.
Never mind that these kids came to camp to learn to cook, meaning they'd probably spend a minimum amount of time in the kitchen at home. Never mind that they'd been slaving away over hot stoves and ovens for longer than most kids their age can manage to do just about any one thing. Never mind that they were 11 freakin' years old.
At least, I never minded. I gave 'em hell. I was the Simon Cowell of the Sage Iron Chef Competition.
It was sad, really - an overgrown bully of a food critic telling prepubescent kiddos that their dishes were unimaginative, that their chicken breasts were like drywall, that they shouldn't have made such a heavy dessert to cap off two courses of salad - and by the way, little Jane and Janey, who does two courses of salad? - all while they stood quietly, not daring to look me in the eye.
I'm surprised no one cried, especially Tulsa Kids editor Betty Casey. She did have to sit right next to me, after all, which I'm sure was embarrassing in that way that happens when you have to escort your inebriated grandmother with wine-induced delusions of grandeur out to the van, all the while whispering, "Grams, could you use your inside voice, please?"
Not that I would know anything about exactly how embarrassing that would be.
Thank you, Catherine, for asking me to help judge your Iron Chef Competition. Thank you, fellow judges, for not stabbing my feet under the table with the heels of your pumps. Thanks most of all to you, Sage students, for not looking up my address so that you could camp out on my front lawn to wait for me to emerge so you could pelt me with dodgeballs.
Check the Sage Culinary Studio Web site for more information on cooking summer camps. They're a great way to keep the kids from running up the water bill and destroying the lawn with sprinklers and Slip 'N' Slides before school takes 'em back in.
Plus, kiddos learn a life skill that's just not taught at school these days - a life skill that has benefits for you as the kid's caregiver, since after a class at Sage, there will never be a reason why you can't come straight home from work and prop your feet up as you command your three-year-old to whip you up an Italian masterpiece for supper.
I can't wait.