Forget mystery meat and bug juice: Camp food took on a whole new meaning this week for a group of 14 rising ninth-graders at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, NY.
They left the hadar ochel, or cafeteria, behind for an adventure in culinary arts in New York City.
The campers spent July 31-Aug. 4 in the kosher kitchen of the Ramaz Middle School on East 85th Street. There professional chefs from the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts taught them everything from knife skills to sushi rolling to the fine art of pastry dough.
The week culminated with an Iron Chef-style competition on Thursday morning.
During the week there were brunches and dinners to organize, cakes to decorate, and crepes to prepare.
“We were looking into the market for specialty programs and looking to respond to the question of how we can offer an intensive specialty experience within the Ramah framework,” said Rabbi Amy Roth, the camp’s associate director.
On Aug. 1, a visitor joined the campers as they prepared a cocktail party under the guidance of Chef Avram Wiseman, dean of student affairs at CKCA. With a little help, they whipped up non-alcoholic strawberry mint daiquiris, guacamole in cucumber cups, grilled vegetable sushi rolls, potato latkes, miniature spinach strudels, smoked salmon and potato knishes, and buckwheat blinis with sour cream and smoked salmon.
Among the group were three local teens: Yona Kornsgold from East Windsor, Justin Fiszer from Randolph, and Rachel Karlin from Millburn.
“I love food and I want to learn how to cook so I can cook at home a little bit,” said Yona, who was working on potato latkes with Justin. Although his favorite foods are hot dogs and pickles, Yona said he particularly enjoyed the blinis.
“Coming here, I didn’t know I could make anything; we’ve made very yummy things — yesterday we made ‘toad in a hole’” — for the gastronomically uninformed, an egg fried in a hole cut in a slice of bread — “and French toast.”
The culinary arts course is part of “Sababa” — literally, “cool” — a program launched this year at Ramah. All 94 campers entering ninth grade, in the division known as Bogrim, went on one of five different trips. Some went biking in Vermont; others went hiking in the Adirondacks. One group was immersed in theater arts through the BIMA program at Brandeis University while another performed mitzva projects in Rhode Island.
Although there was no extra fee for Sababa this year, tuition will be slightly higher in 2012 for Bogrim campers to cover the program costs.
The innovation is a nod to the increasing appeal of specialty camps, where campers, usually teens, spend a week or two in a highly specialized environment — typically sports, outdoor adventures, or science and technology. Another Jewish camp, New Jersey Y, partners with the 92nd Street Y on three-week residential summer camp experiences in culinary arts, fashion, music, theater, and sports.
Justin, from Randolph, was thrilled with Ramah’s culinary option. “I think Sababa is sababa,” he said while grating potatoes. “I love to cook! I’m looking forward to the whole week.”
Rachel showed off her adept way with a knife as she prepped sushi rice and sliced vegetables. “I like making desserts — cupcakes and stuff like that,” she said.
For some of the campers, taking part in the program involves a trade-off.
“Sometimes, I’d rather be at camp because that’s why I go to camp,” said Yona. “Part of camp is being with everyone, the scenery, doing activities; I still love Sababa, but I’d rather be at camp.”