In the home economics room of Westminster High School, the smell of Brussels sprouts and charred food wafted through the classroom as 8- to 11-years-old chefs rushed around the three kitchen units, trying desperately to add the final touches to their dishes.
An instructor yelled out the countdown of five minutes remaining, adding to the frenzy.
This was Kids Chopped, a weeklong summer camp run like an episode from the Food Network television show, "Chopped," with mystery ingredients and a final taste-test from judges.
Following Kids Chopped is Chopped, a summer camp for teenagers ages 12 to 15. Both camps are two of the many on offer through the Carroll Community College's Summer! Kids@Carroll and Teen College.
Each day at Kids Chopped begins with a short lesson on a new cooking technique that can be used to prepare that day's dish, instructor Bill Holtz said. Holtz worked as a chef for 10 years and now teaches fourth grade at Westminster Elementary School.
On Wednesday, he taught the children how to use the oven and saute food on the stove top, both methods that the chefs could have used to cook their Brussels sprouts.
The children are very independent in the kitchen, but they also have the help of several kitchen aides, Holtz said.
"They're pretty good at fending for themselves, but every once in a while someone can't reach the top shelf or doesn't know what to do," 14-year-old Mikayla Maksym, one of the kitchen assistants, said as her attention was pulled away to help someone with the oven.
Just like on the show, the children were given ingredients that they were required to be integrated in their dishes and were also able to use any additional ingredients from the pantry.
Wednesday's mystery ingredients were small puff-pastry cups, tomato sauce, string cheese and Brussels sprouts.
"A lot of them are automatically thinking of pizza cups, but a lot of them are branching out and experimenting, too," Holtz said.
After Holtz called for his chefs to put down their food and utensils, they all sat around tables in front of a panel of judges who rated the dishes in terms of creativity, appearance and taste on a scale of 1 to 3.
At the end of the week, all of the points will be totaled for an overall winner.
One of the dishes that a chef brought to the judges was far from being a pizza. Swimming underneath the tomato and cheese sauce hid puff pastry shells and pasta. Sauteed slices of cucumber rimmed the red sea and the 2-inch butt of a cucumber protruded from the very middle.
Holtz commended 11-year-old chef Marcello Piccirilli's creative use of the cucumber, which he had never eaten sauteed before but said tasted great.
"The cucumber turned out better than I expected," Marcello said.
Another chef, 10-year-old Ben Cohn, called his dish Volcanic Activity because the tomato sauce represented lava bubbling out of the pastry-shell volcano and burning the Brussels-sprout trees.
An important aspect of the dish was also the story behind it, Holtz said. The creativity of the story also reflected their score.
"When you're personally invested in the food, you know it's going to come out better," Holtz told the class.
Grace Conaway, 11, explained to the judges that her puff pastries were houses floating on tomato sauce and the thin wafer of Brussels sprout on top of each house served as the roof.
The judges awarded Grace a perfect score of 3 in each of the three categories. As Holtz told Grace that he liked her story and dish, her face shone pink and her bright smile fought to climb all the way up her face.
"That's what it's all about — seeing the smiles on kids' faces," Holtz said.
Although the judge's deadpan expressions revealed nothing when they took a bite of each dish, they always gave honest criticism of what they did and did not like.
"So far nothing has been inedible, and they really want to impress us," Holtz said.
One dish made the judges eyes' widen in shock when they took a bite that lit their mouths on fire from the spiciness.
"Oh yeah, I can taste the chili powder," Holtz said as he reached for more water.
Overall, the dishes tasted good and some of the things the children have made have really impressed Holtz, he said.
One of the dishes from earlier in the week was so delicious that Holtz said he and the judges kept eating it after the children left.
The class is a mix of experienced and inexperienced chefs but it is all about teaching the children to think on their feet, Holtz said.
Sometimes when things go wrong or the food falls apart, they have to problem solve.
"They're really using their imagination and creativity," Holtz said.
If you go:
What: Carroll Community College offers more than 100 half-day and full-day summer camps for children ages 3 to 15 as part of the Summer! Kids@Carroll and Teen College summer camps. Camp subjects range from science, math, art, theater and culinary areas.
Where: Classes are either held at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster, or Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road, Westminster.
When: June 22 to Aug. 7 with morning camps 9 a.m. to noon and evening camps 1:15 to 4:45 p.m.
Cost: Ranges from $125 to $160 depending on the class