These kids are mayonnaise-making MACHINES!
Culinary Camp #2 is coming to an end, which may not mean much to you, but it's a major milestone for me. My summers are punctuated by these all-consuming adventures, somewhat surreal weeks immersed in the lives of 13-year-olds. I spend eight solid hours a day interacting with ten kids the entire time, trying to keep them engaged and productive--no breaks, no iPhones, no TV, no pretending you don't hear them screaming. And the amazing thing is, we mostly succeed in making food that any cook would be proud of.
Here are the cupcake contest entries from this week:
On the left is a chocolate cupcake with strawberry frosting, on the right is a high-concept S'Mores cupcake (with marshmallow buttercream made with homemade marshmallow fluff), and in the foreground was the dark-horse winner, a banana split cupcake (Jill, who is the esteemed cupcake judge, predicted that there was no way this one was going to get her vote because it wasn't chocolate, but the banana cupcake was surprisingly light and delicious). Seriously, these cupcakes--the creations of a bunch of 13-year-olds plus me making up recipes on the fly--were better than a lot of cupcakes I've had from professional cupcake bakeries. I'm not going to name names, I'm just saying...
Another recipe we're making in the camps this year is homemade mayonnaise, which I have gotten very familiar with since we've been making it every week for the Caesar Chicken Salad Spears we're serving in Après. The first time I was testing the recipe, I had some...difficulty...making the mayonnaise (it requires whisking an egg yolk constantly while adding a cup of oil drop by drop--which takes about 20 minutes of full-on whisking, and if that doesn't sound hard, I dare you to try it). The problem is that if you don't add the oil slowly enough, or don't whisk hard enough (or maybe if you whisk too hard, or the bowl is too warm, or some other factors we can't figure out), the emulsion breaks--often at the last second--and it becomes a lumpy puddle of oil instead of a thick, smooth mayonnaise. When Travis and I tried making mayonnaise the first time, we had it break on us six times in one day. That would be a total of an hour and a half of whisking, down the tubes. In addition to being exhausting, it was totally demoralizing since mayonnaise is in the canon of French recipes that chefs are supposed to be able to make, and even though no normal person cares about the Mother Sauces any more (I certainly don't), it seems like I should be able to make them if I set my mind to it. Since that terrible day I've learned how to save the mayonnaise if it breaks, and now that I know that trick, we've never had the problem again, of course. But I figured this would be a great way to wear out the kids, so I put them in teams and set them whisking. I just walk around saying, "Good job! Keep whisking! No stopping!" And you know what? So far the kids are four for four--not a single broken batch of mayonnaise. Travis and I are outraged--we are totally losing to the kids.
Another strategy for burning off energy is to take field trips, preferably ones that involve a fair amount of walking (unfortunately this burns off my energy as well, so it's not as good as making mayonnaise). On Wednesday we went down the street to the Seafood Landing fish shop, and Bruce, the owner, showed us how he cuts up a salmon. The kids reacted to this demonstration with a mixture of emotions:
Tomorrow is our last day, and we end with a party for which each kid cooks a recipe of his choosing. This year I decided that we are going to make a cookbook of all the kids' recipes, and the theme was that each kid had to come up with a food that reminds him of something, and write a little intro to his recipe telling the story of its connection to him. I thought it was a pretty good idea, but it turns out that 13-year-olds don't have any food stories. Maybe I've read too many foodie memoirs, in which the author always has some food memory from when he was four years old--apparently that isn't a universal experience, or maybe those stories are imposed on your childhood memories after you grow up. It's been kind of painful trying to help the kids come up with recipes. Oh well, new idea for next year.