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  1. Pasco

Pasco Schools' Camp Quest turns elementary students into Culinary Cadets

GAIL DIEDERICH | Special to the Times Carefully dividing and weighing dough for pizza crust were, from left, Xavier Scholl, 9, Lilly Troy, 8, and Ben Dabramo, 9. The three Culinary Cadets were taking part in a Pasco Schools’ Camp Quest experience in cooking.

LAND O' Lakes — Put 14 students, ages 5-11, in a kitchen. Add tubs of flour and cups of water. Then tell them they're going to make pizzas.

Excitement soars.

This was the Culinary Cadets on July 2, participating in a two-week camp at Land O' Lakes High School's Culinary Arts Academy and one option in Pasco Schools' Camp Quest summer enrichment, fee-based experiences for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"I wanted to come to this camp because I'm interested in different cooking techniques," said Emily Corries, 9, and a fifth-grade home schooler. "Today I learned to knead dough."

"I'm 5 ½ ,and I want to be a cook when I grow up," said Ella Nelson, a Sand Pine Elementary first-grader.

The camp agenda, set by Jessica Cooper, chef of Land O' Lakes' culinary program, and Jeremy Blythe, chef of Wiregrass Ranch High's culinary program, started with basic sanitation, including handwashing, table cleaning and supply storage. A tasting activity pitting national brands against generic brands had students forming hypotheses, trying samples and drawing conclusions.

Students received chef hats, which they personalized, plus an apron, a set of spatulas, a binder with camp instructions and copies of recipes they'd make — pizzas, stir-fry or sushi, homemade pasta and sauce, and cupcakes with frosting.

The students got down to business the second day with the pizzas. Each of three groups was assigned a different pizza — Neapolitan, Chicago-style or New York-style. Guiding the young chefs were high school culinary arts students, volunteers earning service hours as camp helpers.

Xavier Schott, 9, and a Connerton Elementary fifth-grader, was skeptical about the camp.

"At first I thought this would be odd," he said. "But I came and saw it was learning and thought 'it's okay.' Then I saw we're making pizza and I thought, 'Now this is good!'"

Then he heard about the cupcakes and said, "I could make those for my mom's birthday next week."

Victoria Clapham, 9 and a Wiregrass Elementary fourth-grader, saw how she could use the skills with her family.

"I think making sushi will be my favorite," she said. "My mom is from Japan, and I can surprise her."

Chefs Blythe and Cooper kept a busy pace, checking out the progress of the young cooks and assisting the high school volunteers.

The Culinary Cadets met from 8 a.m. to noon each day. Then students ages 6-12 came during the afternoons for "Chop It Like It's HOT!"

Camp Quest was arranged through Pasco School's Office for After School Enrichment Programs, in collaboration with the Career and Technical Education Department. For more information, go to

Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at