Playing With Food at The Culinary Playground

The Culinary Playground unlocks the fun of cooking

A team of "mini chefs" at work at the Culinary Playground

Doesn’t Cake Camp sound like a delicious outing? Welcome to the wilds of Derry and The Culinary Playground, where there are no mosquitoes or skinned knees. The recreational cooking school makes cooking fun and informative for youngsters, teenagers and adults. Owner Kristen Chinosi has run the school for four years, and her staff members are on point with food trends and training techniques. The space boasts six ovens and induction burners, and has room for up to 20 participants.

One recent morning, six preschoolers eagerly donned their aprons and gathered around a short-legged table that matched their stature. Culinary instructor Cheri Locke patiently guided the “mini chefs” through the steps of making a yummy treat — pudding cups. They were taught to measure and level off the teaspoon, pour milk into the mixing bowl and stir the contents until it magically became pudding. Each one was amazed by the process, loved the smell and was happy to lick the mixing spoon — just like their adult counterparts. Along the way were lessons in shape recognition and simple math. Locke is a former nursery school teacher and she still loves to work with the little ones. An arm’s length away, parents or grandparents looked on with pride.

Starting in the kitchen at an early age has its benefits. Kids are exposed to a variety of foods that they may come to appreciate later. “It can take 10 exposures to a new taste to learn to like it,” says Chinosi. She recommends parents look for ways to get kids involved at home. They can tear greens or use little scissors to snip scallions, chives and cooked bacon. And, of course, there is always stirring and licking the spoon. Sure, there are plenty of sweets on the menu (even the aforementioned Cake Camp), but Chinosi posits that, when you make them yourself, you can at least control the ingredients and sugar types and levels.

The Culinary Playground also has classes with increasing skill levels for 6- to 10-year-olds. Projects can include fruit tarts, ice cream, cake, pretzels, mac and cheese or scones, each made from scratch. Also popular in this age group is the themed birthday party. All the guests get involved in making the birthday child a pizza, cake and ice cream, or “meatball” cupcakes. Chinosi has 13 different themes listed on the website. The emphasis is always on the fun — even separating eggs with a giant nose where the whites drip out the nostrils to endless giggles.

Come summer, it’s cooking camp for four or five days a week in each session. The classes are geared to grade-schoolers and teenagers. Topics are themed to world cuisine such as Mexican, Italian or Greek, but one option is called “Feed the Family.” Students make the meal and take enough home to share with their loved ones. Farmers Market Camp involves going across the street to the Wednesday gathering of local farmers, shopping for fresh produce and coming back to the kitchen to prepare fresh salad greens and more.

Kids aren’t the only ones to benefit from group activity. Chinosi has several date nights scheduled each month where four couples or friend duos gather to make the same menu. Each couple makes their own menu items, and everyone enjoys the feast at the end of the night along with a bottle of wine (you bring your own). Chef Bryan Philbrook designs and leads these classes. The August classes feature a mixed green salad with pear and baked goat cheese, stuffed pork tenderloin with Riesling sauce, Dijon roasted potatoes and mini French bistro apple tarts. Sunday afternoon workshops for adults feature a nutritious meal focused on learning ways to make meals more delicious and healthy. The adult Feed the Family workshop can feature Paleo recipes, and provide wholesome meals for four nights as take-and-bake entrées. Private classes can be scheduled to learn just about any cooking skill.

Kids and adults need not be intimidated by cooking wholesome meals from scratch. The Culinary Playground is among several businesses that cater to children, and there are a host of others geared specifically to adults. Lessons are not just about the recipe. Cooking instructors can teach new tricks, inspire the desire to cook at home more often and encourage a lifelong passion for the art — an art that’s fun and feeds the soul.

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