Kids stir up fun and great dishes at Sprouts Cooking Clubs
Seventeen eager kids can barely wait to get their hands into the cookie dough set out in bowls on a kitchen counter. The youngsters, ages 7 to 12, are spending their winter break at Sprouts Cooking Club, where they chop, stir, and sauté alongside chefs in local restaurants and production kitchens. Earlier in the week these young foodies cooked with chefs at Oakland eateries Shakewell and Michel Bistro and whipped up homemade tofu at Hodo Soy. Today, the group meets at Berkeley’s Certified Kitchens to bake with Barbara Widhalm, owner of cottage food business Babsi’s Viennese Treats.
Babsi starts out with lebkuchen, a soft, spiced holiday cookie she describes as the Austrian counterpart of gingerbread. Her version is gluten free, using honey as a sweetener. Next, the young bakers learn the secrets of Babsi’s marzipan, a sugar-free variation of the sweet almond paste. The kids get creative with their cookies’ shapes, coming up with a turtle, a rainbow, a snake, a pig, and a snowman sporting a baseball cap. Sprouts staff members and several parents help keep things organized.
Founder and director Karen Rogers launched Sprouts as a nonprofit in 2006 to offer youngsters the chance to cook with real chefs. “Our students aren’t treated like kids,” she says. “They’re aspiring chefs. Our partner chefs talk to them, treat them, and cook with them just like the chefs and cooks in their kitchen. Sprouts’ youth chefs bring their own knives to class, just like any cook who works at a restaurant.”
Rogers makes it a priority to include kids from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as those with health issues or dietary restrictions. In 2014, about a third of Sprouts students received full or partial scholarships. “They couldn’t care less about their differences,” says Rogers. “They enter the restaurant to cook and create community and camaraderie around real food.”
Camps take place in various Bay Area restaurants, gardens, and farms, where kids experience a range of activities, including harvesting fruit and veggies and shopping at local farmers’ markets. “They do everything themselves,” says Rogers. “We’ve broken down chickens, de-scaled fish, butchered pigs. The kids work the fryer, man the stovetop, and mince their own garlic.” Older kids (ages 13 to 15) can apply to be junior counselors.
Sign-ups are now underway for one-week camp sessions (each one different) during spring break and throughout the summer.