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Food A summer camp for future MasterChefs

July 30, 2018

Things have been hot in the kitchen at Kent School and it’s not from the summer sun.

The school in Connecticut is one of two in the nation hosting Camp MasterChef!, a culinary getaway for kids and teens. Based on the TV reality cooking shows “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” starring chef Gordon Ramsay, youths spend camping time learning their way around the kitchen and up their culinary skills thanks to a kitchen full of well-known guest chefs. Beginning Aug. 5, “MasterChef” Season 6 winner Claudia Sandoval will be the featured cook in the kitchen. Sandoval, the first Latina to ever win the cooking reality show, has since authored a cookbook, Claudia’s Cocina, A Taste of Mexico, launched a culinary consulting and catering company and is a judge on the new Telemundo Mexican television show, “MasterChef Latino.” A California resident and mother of a pre-teen, Sandoval recently took her apron off to chat about the benefits of spending time in the kitchen, the new interest by children to cook, her newfound celebrity and her first trip to Connecticut.

Cooking camp! Who would have imagined that’s what a kid would want to do over the summer! Tell me what the idea was about hosting such camps for youngsters who are interested in such an experience? And why so much interest?

The Camp MasterChef! camps are focused on teaching pre-teens’ and teenagers’ elementary-level cooking skills as well as some advanced skills. With the growing number of cooking shows on television like “MasterChef Jr.” aimed at youngsters who love to cook, it’s not surprising that more and more young people want to learn more about creating and cooking in the kitchen. We have found that the kids love watching “MasterChef Jr.” and the adults on “MasterChef” as well and are actually some of the biggest fans of that show. Cooking has become kind of cool and the bonus is that kids are authentically creative and they bring it to the kitchen.

What can kids learn at camp beyond the apparent, cooking for themselves or others? As a mom, how has cooking become part of the way you are bring up your daughter?

It’s not just about making food. At the camp, team building and working as a team are a big part of the camp experience. And that is huge when it comes to developing life skills. They have to learn to work collaboratively at camp where they will do team cooking competitions just like on the show. And when we make big dishes, like paella for instance, it is done restaurant style and that means everyone has a job to do, everyone contributes. And when we finish the dish, it is everyone’s success.

What is a day at camp like?

Well, we teach skills that run the gambit, how to use a knife, how to measure ingredients, follow a recipe, cooking terms, skills on the stove and in the oven. Classes bring in elements of the show, mystery boxes, team competition and individual competitions. Kids are very supportive of each other in the contests but they also have a drive to win.

So many parents complain that their kids are not very adventurous when it comes to eating, especially in this day and age of takeout and delivery. How to do you nudge the campers into trying something different?

Sometimes they just need some coaxing. And for some I’ve seen, they are more adventurous because they’ve watched the show and see different kinds of foods. As the first and still only Latina to win “MasterChef,” I like to share recipes from my culture. I’ve found a lot of them have never had real Mexican food. So it’s kind of fun to watch them make it and then find out they like it. Again, I think they just need a little coaxing and little peer pressure; when they see everyone else trying it, doesn’t hurt either.

You have shared so many of your own memories from your parents’ and grandparents’ kitchens. How did that inspire you, even as a child and as a mother?

As a mother, I took a page out of my mom’s and grandmother’s books when it came to cooking with my own daughter. I got her in the kitchen early and got her comfortable with failure. I started her with scrambled eggs. I think it is super-important to get back to familial things. Instead of texting and online-games and videos, separate from technology a little bit each day and get together in the kitchen and make something together. It’s not difficult to do and makes good memories.

You have a cookbook and are a judge on the new “MasterChef Latino” show on Telemundo. Are you still pinching yourself about the fact that your love of cooking has turned into celebrity?

Every single day I pinch myself. I can’t walk through Target without being recognized and I still can’t believe it. I think I knew I had become a celebrity when I started reading articles critiquing me and that was a learning experience. You can’t be prepared for that aspect of celebrity. You have tolerant to stay on your feet.

Your absolutely favorite meal?

Chiles Rellenos. Chiles stuffed with cheese and then coated in an egg batter, fried and then covered with tomato sauce. It’s a homey meal. It takes a little time to make, but for me that’s therapeutic. When I’m making them and close my eyes, I feel like I am in my grandma’s kitchen.

So your experience on “MasterChef.” Taskmaster celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, badass or marshmallow?

He is a great father and great human being. And as far as “MasterChef,” I made a lot of new friends, I learned to cook some amazing food and walked away with an experience that changed my life.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.

My degree is actually in political science. And despite my heritage, Mexican food is not my favorite. It is Italian and I love gnocchi.

For more information on Camp MasterChef go to campmasterchef.com

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