Snickerdoodle pancakes, anyone? Sowela’s culinary campers learning basic chef fundamentals, presentation skills, teamwork

For over a decade, Sowela Technical Community College’s Office of Workforce Solutions has hosted culinary camps for seventh- through ninth-grade children.

Campers get a well-rounded cooking experience in an industrial kitchen. Led by Sowela culinary instructors, graduates and students, they learn basic chef fundamentals, presentation skills and teamwork.

The first week of the 2024 camps started on Monday. Culinary Arts Instructor Ebony LeDay  — owner of LeDay’s Divine Catering — said each morning, the children come to camp and prepare for the day as if they were clocking in for work.

They wash their hands, put on their aprons, get their recipes and begin mise en place — the process of gathering and measuring ingredients before cooking.

The campers participate in the cooking from beginning to end (even clean up) to get a full taste of tangible experience in a professional setting.

LeDay said one of the most important skills the campers learn is teamwork.

“Just because your team is done, help the next team because it all matters at the end,” she said. “Teaching them teamwork, how to work together. We are just making this a very positive environment, with everybody communicating.”

On Tuesday, their first meal of the day was a plate of snickerdoodle pancakes coated in sugar with a vanilla sauce and a variety of fresh fruit. During this exercise, the importance of creative presentation was highlighted.

“When something dazzles us, we want to try it. When something looks delicious, we want to try it,” she said.

LeDay explained that the students were scared at first, but after learning about mise en place and putting it into practice they were self-assured.

“That’s what makes you a confident chef.”

She was nervous on the first day too, she said. She graduated from Sowela in 2022, and this is her first year teaching at the culinary camps. After seeing how quickly the students caught on to her lessons, her nervousness subsided.

For former Sowela culinary student Sabrina Heffron, teaching at the culinary camp is a full-circle moment. Over a decade ago, she attended the camp herself. Her “exciting” experience motivated her to pursue a career in the culinary arts. She is grateful for the opportunity to give that memory to a younger generation.

“Knowing how passionate I was as a camper, and then turning around and being able to inspire that in people who are equally as passionate and young, it makes me feel good to maybe swing them into the industry,” she said.

LeDay hopes to instill the campers with a long-lasting inspiration.

“Don’t give up. Your passion is very important, and you just have to stick with it no matter how bad it looks,” she said. “If you love it, and if you stay consistent and persistent, you will get where you’re trying to go.”

At the end of the week, the students will cook and host a dinner for their parents at Sowela’s Culinary, Gaming and Hospitality Center, LeDay said.

The Sowela Main Campus in Lake Charles will have one more week of Culinary Camp from June 16 to 24. The Sowela Jennings site will have two weeks of Culinary Camp later this summer, July 15 through 19 and July 29 through August 2.

There are no more spots for the Main Campus, but there are still openings for the Sowela Jennings site. Registration per student is $290.

To register, visit sowela.edu/culinary-camps/

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