For a group of teens, things are heating up this summer.
The Teen Battle Chef program will kick off its fifth summer at Spoutwood Farm in Glen Rock on July 8, and participants will be learning more than just knife skills.
The eight-session program was started by Liz Leinwand, of Freeland, Md., on the recommendation of her daughter, who taught the Teen Battle Chef program in a New York City middle school.
Leinwand has been a member of Spoutwood Farm Community Supported Agriculture program for nearly 15 years and thought the farm would be a great partner for the program. Spoutwood welcomed the program, which has grown in popularity during its five-year run. Spoutwood is the only CSA program to run the Teen Battle Chef program, which is run mostly in high schools around the country.
In Teen Battle Chef, 12 teens make up two teams of six and are given tasks to complete, similar to popular cooking shows such as "Top Chef."
Each group presents to one another before sitting down to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Learning opportunity: But the goal is not to have a winner or loser, Leinwand said. It's to teach kids culinary skills and recipes from around the world while also helping them learn about proper food handling and safety, nutrition and health risks associated with poor food choices.
It's not school, Leinwand said, and the organizers want the program to be fun for the participants, but also informative.
"They'll be learning to battle health risks and effects of making poor choices," she said. "They're learning about nutrition and what gives fuel to the body."
With a co-op organic garden on the premises, teens are able to see where the food they're cooking with comes from and get hands-on experience with farm-to-table cooking, harvesting items for the meals they prepare that day.
The program is not highly competitive, but the battle aspect motivates kids to put forth their best effort.
"It's a great way to become a confident and expressive chef," Leinwand said.
Though not the goal, a number of students have gone on to pursue culinary school and careers, she said.
Life skills: The most rewarding part of the program, according to Leinwand, has nothing to do with the food as much as it does the life skills kids learn while they're cooking.
In addition to slicing and dicing, the program teaches teamwork and leadership by having teens rotate kitchen roles such as head chef. Leinwand said kids gain a lot of confidence with these exercises.
"It's great fun and it's a great way to empower kids to be leaders, whether they take that leadership experience and do more with cooking or take it into other aspects of their lives," Leinwand said. "It's a really power´ful vehicle for the kids for life."
The program is completely volunteer-run, and all the adults go through a two-day training before the sessions start.
Teens return: In addition to adults, the program also brings back teens who successfully completed the curriculum and become ambassadors for healthy eating. This group of teens is known as CHEFS, Culinary Health Educators From Spoutwood. The CHEFS also help with food demonstrations and community events at Spoutwood and other venues.
Leinwand said she hopes to begin expanding the battle chef mission in other ways. She said they have been working on possibly doing a web-based training with Girl Scout groups and providing a program opportunity for people with disabilities. She said they are focused on getting the message out about eating local, healthy foods.
"It's an important message to get across, and the best way to do it is to get kids to share what they know with other people," she said.
The Teen Battle Chef program will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 8-18, excluding Fridays and weekends. The program is open to "tweens" and teens. Leinwand said most participants are between the ages of 10-16. The fee is $100, which covers food, equipment and a small stipend for CHEFS.
Openings are still available. The application can be found at www.spoutwood.org/education or interested participants can contact Liz Leinwand directly at (443) 695-0015 to register. If there is an overflow, Leinwand said they will find a way to run a second program.