Kids are cooking up gourmet treats in this neighbor’s kitchen

Interested in weekly summer sessions like “I Can Cook Dinner” and “Chocolate Delight”? Contact Susan Hamm at 214-826-2002.

Cooking is not just for grown-ups, insists M Streets resident Susan Hamm. And she reinforces this belief every summer by turning children into chefs during her home cooking camps.

“I just want them to know that they can make something, and they can have fun with it,” Hamm says. “The most important rule is to have fun.”

The camps for 6- to 12-year-olds teach both cooking and craft skills. Every child decorates an apron, and throughout the session, they make their own cookbooks with recipes such as cheesy spaghetti and pigs in a blanket. Hamm chooses the recipes according to the children’s tastes.

“I pay attention to what the kids like and don’t like,” she says.

Every week, the team of aspiring cooks is divided into head chefs, recipe readers and cleaners. (Most of them want to be head chefs, Hamm says.) But before any of the little chefs can get their hands on the ingredients, Hamm chirps her most essential instruction.

“What’s the number one rule?” she asks the group.

“Oh yeah, wash your hands,” the kids remind themselves.

It’s a must for kids whose task each day is to get down and dirty by actually cooking — none of this Easy-Bake Oven nonsense.

“We make real dough; we roll it, and let it rise,” Hamm says. “We may do it in a more elaborate way.”

This type of hands-on experience could easily create chaos in her kitchen, but Hamm says she prevents this by limiting her camps to seven children, which usually results in only “normal kitchen mess.”

She decided to launch the cooking camps after her sister-in-law asked her to give cooking lessons to her 9-year-old niece. Hamm’s first camp was called “Gourmet Girls,” but several boys joined the session, too. So after the first year, Hamm expanded the camp, calling it “Gourmet Girls and Guys.”

She specifically remembers an 11-year-old boy from the first year who, after only one hour of camp, said, “This is the most fun I’ve had all summer.” And she especially enjoys watching the children interact.

“We get some who can’t read and so the others help them,” Hamm says. “I like having different ages because they can help each other.”

At the end of the day, Hamm’s chefs eagerly embrace the best part of cooking — eating their creations. While some share, others “have to have it all,” she says.

And Hamm has no doubt about these little chefs’ favorite kitchen activities: “cracking eggs and smelling vanilla.”

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