The Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Orange County 4-H are holding the annual Kids Cooking Camp this week at the Orange County Convention and Expo Center on FM 1442 in Orange for children ages 8 to 14. Campers, from left to right, such as Ava Dyer, Sofia Harrison, Kelsey Carolan (volunteer leader), Jaxon Briggs and Alexis Gantt, prepare items for Tuesday’s entree, Mexican Zucchini Burrito Boats. The campers also learn proper techniques for cutting, measuring, health and safety in the kitchen. Photo by Tommy Mann Jr.

By Tommy Mann Jr. – The Record

Summer is a time for fun, friendship and making memories and one local organization is helping children do just that.

The Orange County 4-H and Texas AgriLife Extension Service are once again holding their annual Summer Youth Cooking Camp for area children ages 8 to 14. The weeklong camp, which is being held at the Orange County Convention and Expo Center, located off FM 1442 in Orange, has grown in size and popularing over its three years.

“When we started this camp three years ago, we only had 15 kids participate,” said Fallon Foster, County Extension Agent. “It has become very popular, very quickly. We had 55 children attend in 2015 and expanded it to 60 children this year. We still had 30 children on the waiting list for this year’s program, but we can only accommodate so many because our biggest problem is making sure we have enough volunteers.”

The children are divided into small work-groups at each work station and rotate hourly into different areas of the camp. These areas include cooking, food safety, nutrition and 4-H Prep, which provides information about Orange County 4-H and its many other programs.

“The concept of the cooking camp is to introduce the children to 4-H and what it is all about,” Foster added. “Many people do not realize it, but 4-H is more than just dealing with livestock.”

As for the cooking camp itself, the program is providing many of the children a valuable learning experience they can use at home with adult supervision.

“We are trying to teach them basic cooking skills, such as measuring ingredients and cutting, and we are letting them do as much of the work as possible,” she explained. “Cooking is a life skill they can use as they grow-up and give them confidence.”

To make the cooking camp even more exciting for the children, each day of the camp followed a theme. On Monday, the campers prepared Italian dishes and were visited by a guest chef from Luigi’s Italian restaurant in West Orange, and on Tuesday the children prepared Mexican dishes.

For the rest of the week, the youth will prepare an Asian-themed meal and desert on Wednesday, while Thursday will be the “Food Challenge” where they utilize mystery ingredients to create a meal. On Friday, the final day of camp, the youth will celebrate with awards.

Some of the youth are more experienced in the kitchen than others, as is nine-year-old Orangefield resident Ava Dyer.

“I like cooking,” she said. “I like to make cupcakes and cakes, but I can also make spaghetti and gumbo.”

Ava enjoyed Monday’s class very much, so much so that she has already made plans to prepare the dessert she learned about on Monday at Thanksgiving.

“The cooking camp has been a lot of fun, and I have learned some things too,” she added. “Like (Tuesday), we learned how to saute the vegetables for the Mexican food we cooked.”

Jaxon Briggs, who learned about the cooking camp in 2015 when his cousin attended, spends time in the kitchen with his mother and “nana.”

“I know how to make grilled cheese and some other stuff, but I wanted to learn more about cooking and thought it would be cool,” Jaxon explained.

The nine-year-old Bridge City resident obviously has a knack for the kitchen as he was very excited about preparing the Mexican Zucchini Burrito Boats and the Sopapilla Cheesecake for dessert.

When asked how difficult it was to follow the necessary steps to prepare each dish, Jaxon was very enthusiastic with his response.

“Cooking is surprisingly easy and it doesn’t take very long cook stuff,” said Jaxon with a big smile. “I didn’t know making desserts could be so easy and so quick too. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

Each camper receives a tote bag with a variety of items necessary for camp and food preparation and information on how to cook meals, proper sanitation, menu development and nutrition, as well as a cookbook with the ingredients and instructions for each dish prepared during the Summer Youth Cooking Camp.

For more information about Orange County 4-H and its programs, call 409-882-7010 or visit online.