Munching Munchins culinary camp in Vail
Kid can be champion picky eaters – brussel sprouts, spinach, lima beans, fish and the like could make any child’s hit list of yucky food. But Vail kids might have more advanced palates than most.
“We hosted a particular class (at a local elementary school), and I heard a kid say when they asked him about the best part of dinner that his favorite thing was escargot,” says Lourdes Ferzacca of La Tour. “He said, ‘what can I do to have another escargot?’ For a kid to be talking (that way) about snails was pretty cute.”But even kids with advanced tastes need to learn about proper nutrition, and the daily bombardment of brightly colored, preservative-loaded packaged foods can boggle even the most diligent parents. Rutherford Mall, a private chef with Chef d’Maison of Vail, saw this problem but decided to try and help solve it with his Munching Munchkins culinary camp, now in its second year.”There’s a lot of misconception around sports drinks and sports bars – they think that because it’s sports related, it’s healthy,” Mall says as an example. “It’s amazing, even in a place like Vail where they’re active, you’d think they’d be up with it. But parents have demanding lifestyles. Munching Munchkins is an opportunity to bring the community together and start a dialogue about nutrition. What we are trying to do is sow the seed so they can support the parents on their quest (for healthy living). Generally, parents want to see their kids healthy, and we’re supporting a conversation they’re already having.”Mall hit upon a novel idea to keep kids engaged and psyched about nutrition: He brings in some of Vail’s top chefs to teach the kids how to cook like pros. This year, while learning about nutrition, they’ll also be julienning and reducing with Paul Ferzacca of La Tour and ZaccaZa, Thomas Newsted of ZaccaZa, Kevin Nelson of Terra Bistro and executive pastry chef Allana Smith of Larkspur. Private nutritionist Sally Connelly will be on hand to provide additional nutritional knowledge.”We’ll talk about the color of food and balance, and help kids remember that food can be healthy and tasty – the two things can coexist,” says Mall. “Deep down, they’re all generally interested about it. Safety, health, hygiene and nutrition get wrapped up into a really fun package.”Each child will spend 15 minutes with each chef as they learn through hands-on instruction how to prepare healthy, flavorful, gourmet-quality munchies. In between, they’ll go for a swim in the East Vail Racquet Club pool and hike out to a nearby waterfall.And there’s good news for parents: At the conclusion of the camp, they get to eat the spoils of their children’s newfound culinary knowledge.”At the end, parents will come and meet with the kids and eat a light lunch of some of the the samplings kids have prepared,” Mall said. “Last year, Kelly Liken prepared a quinoa salad. You’ve got young kids telling parents, ‘this is what we made – a quinoa salad with mint and lime juice.’ These are fairly obscure ingredients, so a great whole new conversation opened up between parents and kids about what food could look like. It’s really cool.”Lil’ nutrition
Allana Smith plans to help kids learn about eating seasonally and locally through her specially created natural melon berry sodas, which are refined-sugar free.”It’s a blatant alternative to soda, plus you’re getting nutrients from fruits and vegetables,” Smith said. “We’ll start a conversation about eating locally and seasonally – you know, if you eat a strawberry in December, where did it come from? What are the environmental effects of bringing food from far away out of season? We’ll spur these conversations and let them get in there using knives, cutting boards and keeping all of it clean, which teaches about sanitation.”As the kids learn to enjoy and create with nature’s candy, Smith thinks they’ll be less attracted to processed sweets.”If you explain that the kind of energy you get from natural sugars lasts for a longer amount of time, then that might encourage them to have a piece of fruit over a little bag of candy,” she says. “Both are equally quick and easy, and in some cases the soda will be so much more fun and delicious to make than grabbing a Diet Coke out of the fridge. On the kid level, it makes sense – ‘would you rather have the natural sugar from an ice cube from frozen watermelon juice or that artificial thing you can’t even pronounce?’ We encourage them to make the choice for themselves. “Ferzacca knows that her husband Paul and Newsted plan to focus on balanced meals and fresh ingredients – which, when properly employed, can render the age-old command ‘eat your vegetables’ needless.”It’s not true that kids don’t eat or like vegetables – they do when they’re done correctly,” she says. “I have a daughter who’d prefer a salad over anything else, and she’s 10. If things are tasty, kids will eat them, and it helps if they have fun and realize that it’s good for them by talking about why it’s important – if it makes them grow taller, for example.”‘We got to use a real knife!’Ferzacca has seen Paul cook for young children before, and she says he uses simple knowledge to keep their quick attention spans focused on the food.”Little people ask a lot of questions, and he encourages that – he gets them involved so he doesn’t lose them from the beginning,” she says. “He asks them ‘who likes to eat good food?’ And then he tells them what things taste like raw, cooked halfway – information they’ve probably never heard. Then they try it themselves – there’s nothing wrong for them to taste (pizza) dough when it’s raw.”
Of course, if their attention does stray, Chef Paul can always fall back on a gourmet trick or two.”We did a class in the past that was all French, and the flames really did it,” she says. “They loved the flaming creme brulee.”Mall loves the entire aspect of children learning about healthy nutrition from talented chefs who donate their time for children and education. But he has a favorite image from last year’s culinary camp.”There was a young boy of about four years of age, and he walked up with the biggest brown eyes and said to his mum, ‘mom, it was the coolest thing – we got to use a real knife!'” he says. “I was standing next to her, and her jaw just dropped. But then she smiled, and they started talking about all the things he learned to cook.””It’s about as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado