Downtown La Jolla is littered with quaint gourmet restaurants, serving everything from finger-licking barbeque to fresh seafood. But sometimes you can’t beat a home cooked meal. Whether you are vacationing in the San Diego area or live nearby, the Harvard Cookin’ Girl Studio provides a wonderful summer camp that teaches children the ins and outs of cooking and nutrition.
These camps are the design of the Harvard Cookin’ Girl herself, Bibi Kasrai. Bibi quit her corporate job to pursue her passion for food, educating children at local schools about the benefits of healthy eating before finally opening her studio in downtown La Jolla in 2010.
Led by experienced cooks, the weeklong summer camp usually hosts between 10 and 20 children from 9:30am to 12:30pm Monday through Friday. It starts out with three days of instruction during which children learn how to chop, measure, stir and pour to create three different courses. The last two days are final project days where students bring their own recipes from home and direct fellow students on how to make them. With themes including Pajama Week, Green Week, Fashion Week and Travel Around the World Week (perfect for little wanderers!) you are sure to find something to capture your little one’s interests.
I took my 7-year-old cousin Madeline to experience a day of camp, where she helped the other children make a caprese salad, homemade macaroni and cheese and rice pudding for dessert. It was a Thursday morning so the recipes had been chosen by the students themselves and it was up to them to lead the class, demonstrating their leadership skills as well as their ability to work together.
The kids started with the rice pudding, as it needed some time to sit in the refrigerator. The older kids worked together to measure and pour the milk and rice, letting the little ones stir once it was on the stove. The school provides stools for younger kids to stand on to see and reach the tops of the counters and stove, ensuring that they have the same chance to participate as the older kids. Once the mixture was finished cooking, Meng, the instructor, poured it into a pan and let it cool in the fridge while the children got to work on the mac and cheese.
Between recipes, Meng encouraged the students to take the unnecessary dishes to the sink and assigned dish duty to one of the boys, who worked throughout to make sure things were being washed and that the dishes weren’t piling up.
The macaroni and cheese recipe allowed for a lot of participation from the kids. They peeled and chopped the onions, measured the macaroni and shredded the cheese with some easy, childproof graters. While the macaroni boiled, they stirred a stick of butter as it melted in the pan then poured the milk in and slowly sprinkled the cheese while another stirred. They even added flour to the mixture, giving it some added texture. As they worked, Meng asked them questions about the process and about cooking in general, stimulating their little minds and getting them thinking about the processes they were enacting. Once the macaroni was done, the cheese mixture was poured in and the dish was placed in the oven to bake.
Finally, the kids set work on the caprese salad, washing the vegetables in the large sink. They worked together to chop tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, then pulled basil and mint leaves off their stems. Using an herb grinder, the children were able to make tiny pieces to place in the salad. They also cut circular pieces of mozzarella cheese before combining everything in a bowl.
Once everything was ready, the children sat around a long table, set with colorful plastic spoons and knives as Meng and Bibi’s daughter dished up the food and served it to the kids. They were excited to eat the food they had spent hours making—it was easy to tell that it was the highlight of their day. The children are encouraged to try new foods, as it is a rule that each child has to try at least one bite of every course they create. This will likely produce less picky eaters at home and more adventurous kids while traveling!
Overall, I thought this class was a fantastic idea to keep kids busy during the summer. Although they were learning new cooking skills and techniques, they were also communicating with one another, taking turns and socializing, providing them with a growing experience that is also a lot of fun. The children were happy to include my cousin in everything they were doing, even though she did not have the background of the first few instructional days.
If you will be spending at least a week in the San Diego area, this camp is worth checking out! Your children will gain knowledge that they can bring home to their own kitchen, where they can help out with dinner and show you what they’ve learned at the same time. They will come out of the camp with a sense of pride and accomplishment, having not only learned new things but also putting those things to use to create something they never have before. Props to Bibi Kasrai for creating such a fun learning environment for little foodies!
About Harvard Cookin’ Girl
Harvard Cookin’ Girl’s mission is to bring healthy eating from around the world to your kitchen table by making cooking fun again for you, your friends, your children and co-workers.
Whether you come to a date night, an open event night, host your corporate team event or just a kid’s birthday party, you can expect to be entertained while eating an extraordinary 3 or 4 course meal (and not just a sample size as cooking schools do). All this while getting techniques, tricks and recipes to go home with. For more information, visit the Harvard Cookin’ Girl website.
We received a free class in lieu of this Pure Wander review, however all opinions are the free-will of the writer.