As 10-year-old Katherine Parash stood at the counter sporting an apron, she pushed down on her knife, cutting through a large slice of pineapple and removing the core.She moved on to the next piece, and teacher Heidi Kissinger helped her adjust her hands to get a better grip on the knife, reminding her to tuck in her other fingers so as not to get hurt. Finishing up the pineapple, Katherine and her friends began assembling fruit kebabs, alternating between the freshly chopped pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries and kiwi, while keeping in mind the mantra of “eating the colors of the rainbow.”
Katherine was one of approximately 15 fifth- through eighth-graders who participated in a four-week cooking class at Southampton Intermediate School in July as part of the district’s newly revamped summer enrichment program. Under the guidance of Ms. Kissinger, who taught eighth grade home and career skills at the school last year, the students learned several quick and easy dishes they can take home and use for the rest of their lives.
“My dad works at a restaurant that he owns, so I thought it would be kind of cool to learn something new that I haven’t learned before,” Katherine said while standing in the home and career room.
Ms. Kissinger, who is leaving the district at the end of the program, first got the idea for the summer cooking class after learning the district intended to revamp the enrichment program for this summer. She proposed the class, and was thrilled to learn it was approved.
“I thought it would be great, because I know how much some kids just love to cook,” she said. “It has been awesome.”
From day one, Ms. Kissinger said her goal was to teach the kids the basics, primarily focusing on safety in the kitchen while having fun. Typically, students would cook two meals a day, taking roughly an hour and a half to prepare breakfast before cleaning up and moving on to a different meal or dish in the afternoon. By the second-to-last week of the session, students had cooked waffles, French toast, baked ziti, walking tacos—taco ingredients mixed in a bag of corn chips instead of in a tortilla—cupcakes, and desserts.
And the students seemed to love the experience. Incoming sixth-grader Ellen Armus, 11, said her favorite creation this summer has been breakfast burritos, where the students combined eggs, cheese, spinach, tomatoes and bell peppers inside a tortilla. Ellen, who said it would be cool to work in a restaurant when she is older, said she joined because she enjoys whatever cooking she has been allowed to do at home.
“I like cooking,” she said. “It just seemed like a nice thing to do, and I am excited we get a cookbook at the end of the course.”
Ms. Kissinger wanted her students to learn the business side of a cooking career as well. On Wednesday mornings, the students created a breakfast menu to circulate to summer enrichment teachers. Teachers could place an order with the kids, who would make the breakfast and deliver it. Ms. Kissinger said it was a fun experiment in restaurant life.
“I like when we go around and show the teachers what we made,” fifth-grader Isabella Gonzalez, 10, said. “I like cooking and learning new things.”
Students also learned about the importance of healthy eating, a lifestyle Ms. Kissinger follows herself. Earlier this month, the children were taken outside to the district’s organic garden, where they picked lettuce, onion, zucchini and other vegetables to create a fresh garden salad. On that day, teachers were also given the opportunity to place a salad order for delivery.
Another student favorite was dog biscuits. According to Ms. Kissinger, several of the kids asked how to make pet treats, and she decided to make it a philanthropic enterprise. Together, they made two batches and wrapped them up before donating them to the Bideawee Center in Westhampton Beach.
“I couldn’t believe it—the fifth-graders are still only 10 years old, and they are amazing,” Ms. Kissinger said before the program ended on Friday, August 1. “They are all so good. They have really come a long way since the beginning of the summer. Now, I give them a recipe, and I don’t even have to demonstrate it any more—they just go and do it.”