How Being a Culinary Camp Counselor Taught Me to Love Cooking Again

When I was younger, I used to get so excited to get in the kitchen and start cooking. It signified my coming-of-age and independence. I was trusted enough to create a meal for people. But then as I got older, real life hit me. I became busy, and so wrapped up in all of the other things I had to get done each day. Cooking became more of a chore, something I did only because I had to, if I did it at all. When I could, I would resort to easier “meals” that required no actual cooking, like cereal. Or better yet, I’d just go out to eat. Only after spending an entire summer teaching kids how to cook did I finally come to (re)appreciate the art of cooking and feel confident in the kitchen again.

Anyone Can Cook

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Teaching children how to make extravagant meals that actually turned out to be delicious taught me that you don’t have to be a chef or a culinary genius to cook great food. You don’t even have to have any experience in the kitchen! The most important thing you’ll need is simply the confidence to give it a try. Get out a recipe and just start cooking! If 7 year olds can do it, so can we.

The Lost Art of Cooking

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If you have a kitchen, then you have the ability to create beautiful masterpieces right in your own home that you and others can enjoy. Yet as Americans, we so often try to take the easy way out. We take shortcuts and let others (corporations, usually) do the cooking for us. Back before the industrialization of food, people had to make everything for themselves. They weren’t even able to have snacks without putting in a little work in the kitchen. Though this created some extra work for people, the quality of food that we were eating was naturally much higher. No one was cooking in crazy bulk to feed thousands at a time like these large corporations today. This meant that more time could be spent on the details, making each dish a work of art. Though I don’t think we could, or even necessarily should revert to this way of living, I think we can learn a lot from it. Cooking doesn’t have to be something that only the “professionals” do. Everyone can and everyone should! (At least a little anyway.)

Let’s Appreciate All Types of Cuisine

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It’s so easy for me to stay in my cooking comfort zone and cook similar meals everyday. But working at camp forced me to go outside of that comfort zone, and cook foods from all different settings. Each week, we would have a different theme, including Indian, Gluten-Free, Food Truck, Julia Child, and Northern European. Cooking the foods from different countries was something that I hadn’t really done before. I’ve been known to use the same four or five spices in every dish I make, to the point where they all taste pretty much the same. (It’s bad, I know.) But through camp, I was able to explore a few different cultures’ foods that I wasn’t used to preparing and experience a bunch of different flavors. It was really eye-opening and showed me that I didn’t have to use the same spices all the time! I could step outside the box sometimes if I wanted to!

Through the theme weeks such as Carnival food, I learned that foods that are labeled as “unhealthy” don’t have to be unhealthy! During weeks like this, we would make things like corn dogs and pizza, but use whole grains and lean, white meats, and always include fruits and veggies. And you know what? They still tasted delicious! Honestly, I thought they tasted a lot better, and a lot less processed, than the things you would find at a real carnival! So if you’re in the mood for some comfort food or food that doesn’t have a great rep for being “healthy,” then try to make some swaps in the ingredients list. You might be surprised with how it turns out!

Reconnect with the Whole Process of Cooking

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Something I really loved about camp was that we got to spend at least 2 hours in the garden every morning. We would do things like plant seeds, weed flower beds, pick herbs, and harvest all different types of fruits and vegetables. It really forced me to acknowledge all of the work that goes into cooking, before the food even reaches my kitchen. Each vegetable that I cook has spent weeks in a garden growing somewhere, and I had definitely lost touch with that. I took for granted having a wide array of produce constantly at my disposal. Now I have a deeper appreciation for the things I buy at the grocery store. And I have a heck of a lot more plants growing in my own apartment.

Another great thing we did at camp was composting. We really tried to show the kids that food can come full circle, from garden to kitchen and back to garden again. This inspired me to start composting in my own kitchen, and I can already see how much I’ve cut back on food waste!

Cooking Doesn’t Have to Take All Day

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Now this one definitely depends on what you’re cooking. (Emphasis on the “doesn’t have to take all day.”) But mainly what I wanted to express here is that you can easily cook up a beautiful meal in an hour or two. And if you try to enjoy the process, it won’t feel like a chore that you have to do when you get home from work. There are tons and tons of recipes online that are quick and easy to make. Stir-fry has been my go-to lately! It’s so easy and requires virtually no planning. Just throw everything you have in a wok, stir it a bit, and voila! You have yourself a beautiful meal!

Your Food Doesn’t Have to Be Picture Perfect

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With all of the foodie social media accounts blowing up right now, it can be easy to harshly judge our own food. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing everyone’s kitchen creations and it totally inspires me to cook up something great! But try not to get bogged down too much about the appearance of your food. What really matters in day-to-day life is: is it nutritious and does it taste good? If you’ve got both of those down, I’d say you’re doing something right!

After years of struggling to get myself back in the kitchen, I am finally cooking consistently again! I went into camp thinking I was going to teach others about cooking, and, lucky for me, actually ended up learning a lot myself! Hopefully, you’re able to learn from my experience too!

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