Culinary skills honed at a young age can produce satisfying — and yummy — results.
Just ask Charlotte Corcoran's family about the tasty "homemade, not frozen," chicken nuggets corn salsa and salad, the 9-year-old made recently.
"I like to cook," Charlotte said simply.
So does Jeremiah James, 11, a Mount Washington Middle/Elementary School seventh grader, whose specialties are ribs and chicken and favorite TV cooking show is "Iron Chef America." "I might be a chef," he said about a possible future occupation.
Grant Hines, 12, an Owings Mills resident and St. Paul's School student, is known for concocting lip-smacking cupcakes, brownies and lemon bars. He watches chef Rachael Ray on television and, for the past two summers, has taken cooking classes at The Classic Catering People, in Owings Mills.
Classic has been offering cooking classes for children since 2000.
"We got requests from parents," says Harriet Dopkin, Classic's partner and president, who added more classes and now enrolls about 100 children per summer.
The classes are divided into three age groups: 5 to 8 (accompanied by an adult), 9 to 12 and 13 to 16. Four classes for each age group are held throughout the summer at Classic's headquarters on Painters Mill Road. The fee is $80 per class.
Like Charlotte, Jeremiah and Grant, many of the students know more about food than some people might expect.
"They watch the [cable TV's] 'Food Channel,' they're familiar with the chefs and they're really into cooking," says Chef Therese Harding, who teaches the kids' classes. "It's different than it was 10 years ago."
Each class has a theme, from Asian to Italian, brunch to farmer's market. In the course of the two-hour class, the children prepare food, taste the finished product and take home enough for four people, plus recipe cards.
The same menu is used for the different age groups, but skill levels vary. For the youngest class, the goal is to acquire a taste for cooking.
"The common comment we hear is, 'My child never eats this,'" says Dopkin of whatever food this is. "But if they cook it themselves, we find they're open to new flavors."
For the older classes, the skill level becomes progressively more difficult. Take the last class of the summer for the 9-to-12 age group, held on a simmering Wednesday night in late July.
Fourteen students, including three boys, troop into a large prep room that overlooks a commercial kitchen. Three tables are set up with mixing bowls, baking trays, ingredients and utensils, including wooden spoons and whisks. The theme is improv, with each of the tables making different items — bread-and-butter pickles and ketchup at one, brioche and burgers at another, tacos at a third.
Chef John Walsh involves the students in making mayonnaise, which should be a light yellow color, he instructs. "I get worried when it's white," he said, overseeing the students as they take turns whisking the mixture.
As Harding fires up a portable burner, she brings apple cider and vinegar to boil in a pot before dumping in sliced cucumbers and dill for the pickles. A spicy scents wafts through the air.
At another table, students squish spices into ground-beef filling for tacos they've already made in a tortilla press.
For some of the night's students, this is their first class. Sydnee Vance, 10, a Franklin Elementary School fifth grader who likes to make cupcakes, says she heard the class was good. Others are veterans, like Sydney Paules, 9, a Summit Park Elementary School fourth grader, who's been attending classes throughout the summer.
Sydney Paules particularly enjoys tasting the foods she's cooked at the end of each class. "The mango, sticky rice and cream cupcakes were really good," she says of past menu items.