Prepared to perfection

Young chefs program focuses on local foods

For 12 Franklin County preteens and teens, a new Young Chefs program proved to be an experience prepared to perfection.

Offered by North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Martha Mobley and Arnetta Wilson, the weeklong program provided aspiring chefs with the chance to learn not just about cooking, but about local food, agriculture, business and nutrition.

During the mornings of July’s last week, the participants – ages 9 to 14 – visited farms and markets, picking up local produce and meats that they would bring back to the local Extension center kitchen. There, they used the fresh ingredients to create their own lunches.

“I had a blast,” said Lucy Harris, 12, of Louisburg. Lucy wants to be a chef or baker one day – possibly even a farmer growing food for her culinary endeavors.

“I learned a lot about the different farms, and I learned about where food comes from: It doesn’t just come from the grocery store,” she said. “It comes from the ground, or a plant or an animal – something other than Food Lion or Wal-Mart.”

Imparting such knowledge was one of the main goals of Martha Mobley, the county agricultural agent who organized the Young Chefs program with Nutrition Program Assistant Arnetta Wilson.

Mobley arranged the farm and farmer’s market visits, while Wilson guided the young cooks in the kitchen, providing them with recipes and tips for making the most of what’s in season.

Gaydeski introduces the Young Chefs to cooks in one of the mansion's two kitchens.
Being a chef isn’t exclusively about cooking, Gaydeski said. It’s also about managing people and solving problems.

“There’s been a lot of interest lately in chefs, cook-offs and cooking in general. So we wanted to tap into that interest to help the young people learn more about nutrition and about agriculture and its importance to the local economy,” said Mobley, who guides Extension’s local foods activities in Franklin County. She got the idea for Young Chefs from a similar Cooperative Extension youth education program offered in Chatham County.

One of the things that distinguished Franklin County’s program was in the way it ended: On the last day, participants visited the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion, where Executive Chef David Gaydeski gave them a behind-the-scenes look at the gardens and kitchens he uses daily as he prepares food for the state’s first couple and their guests.

Telling the youngsters they could achieve anything they wished, Gaydeski guided them through a garden that he said supplies about 50 percent of the produce used in the mansion – from asparagus and collards to apples and tomatoes.

One of the youngsters who trailed behind the others sneaked a scuppernong grape fresh from the vine and surprised herself with a tasty fig. “I didn’t even know I liked figs,” she said.

After the garden tour, Gaydeski showed the participants parts of the mansion, introducing them to cooks in the two kitchens and treating them to a lunch of chicken strips and curly fries, as well as advice on the educational avenues and opportunities available to aspiring chefs.

“If you want to become a chef, it’s not all about cooking,” Gaydeski told them. “It’s also about leadership and problem solving, and about the team you create to produce the food.”

— D. Shore