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A camp at Largo Community Center teaches kids the art of cooking.

Heads up, Emeril Lagasse. Move over Rachael Ray. The city of Largo is cooking up some competition for you.

This week, 15 cooks-in-training between the ages of 6 and 14 are taking part in Largo's Quick-Fire Chefs Camp.

Walk into the commercial kitchen at the Largo Community Center and it is clear these youngsters are not learning to make Hamburger Helper and fish sticks.

Instead, items on the menu include quiche Lorraine, risotto, pesto and homemade ice cream with chocolate sauce.

Camp instructor Mary Bowyer, a pastry chef who lives in Safety Harbor, is teaching the basics of cooking, cutting and measuring, but also providing instruction in seasonings and how to create dishes the children can share with family and friends.

"I'm including a mixture of culinary delights,'' said Bowyer, a former educator for the American Culinary Federation's Chef and Child program.

On Monday, Bowyer started the camp with a tour of the kitchen, letting campers peek inside the walk-in freezer and open the convection oven.

The children also stood side-by-side at a long, metal work table studying safety procedures. They are being taught how to safely use kitchen equipment such as sharp knives, and how to keep food safe from contamination.

"Chefs know that in the refrigerator there's a place for different items - meat goes on the bottom shelf in case there's still a little blood on it. That way, it won't drip on other things and spread bacteria,'' Bowyer said.

The children also learned the proper way to whisk eggs and measure dry ingredients like flour, and how to use ladles and different utensils when moving batters from the mixing bowl to the pan to the oven.

Lei Lani Shirvis was excited to get home to eat Monday's creation, quiche Lorraine, with her mom, Etsuko Shirvis.

"It smelled so good in the oven, and I learned how cool it is when you put ingredients together and it makes a different substance," said Lei Lani, 10.

Bowyer also shared with the campers what it is like to be a chef.

"A chef is required to wear a uniform. Our hat is called a toque, and we wear long sleeves. We could get burned when we reach in the hot ovens, and the long sleeves protect us,'' she said.''

Tyler Newton, 13, is considering turning his love for cooking into a career as a chef. He's using this week at camp - the only session being held this summer - to help in the decision process, he said.

"Does a chef work eight-hour workdays?'' Tyler asked.

"Eight, yes, but often 10 hours,'' Bowyer said.

Camper Eve Gerlach admitted that the only thing she really knew how to cook before meeting Bowyer was macaroni and cheese. Now, she hopes to start cooking for her parents.

"I want to be able to cook dinner and have it ready when my mom and dad come home from work,'' said Eve, 11.

That's precisely what Bowyer is hoping for, too.

"If a child gets in the kitchen when they're young, they'll cook all through life,'' she said. "Parents need to make sure to make it fun. I had an uncle who sang opera as he cooked.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at or (727) 445-4163.