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At Young Chefs Academy in Bel Air, kids not only learn cooking skills, but sample new dishes

For any parent who has struggled to get their children to try new foods, the Young Chefs Academy in Bel Air offers a solution: Have them prepare it, and maybe they’ll not only sample it, but actually like it.

This was on display recently at the cooking school as eight middle-schoolers prepared and devoured a “vegetable abundance bowl” with spicy tahini salad dressing.

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Zach Archer, 13, has eaten many new foods during the year that he has taken the weekly classes.

“Ninety percent of the food here I have never tried before and never ever thought about,” the Bel Air Middle School student says. “Like fish sauce — it doesn’t smell the best, but it tastes amazing.”

Anthony Bell, the academy’s operations manager and a trained pastry chef, says Young Chefs Academy helps children to expand their food choices along with instilling cooking skills.

“There have been quite a few picky eaters come through,” he says. “We tell them you don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.”

He adds that often children are surprised by what they like.

“If they still don’t like it, I will ask what they don’t like and what would they change to make it better,” he says. “We get them thinking about food.”

Like Zach, many of the students in the class on this recent night have taken the weekly classes since the school opened a year ago in downtown Bel Air. Anthony Bell’s father, Adam Bell, owns the academy and coaches this particular group. They are versed in food handling, kitchen safety, measuring and many cooking techniques and know their way around the two stainless-steel worktables.

He reminds them to assemble ingredients in the recipe’s order: “That way, you don’t forget anything.”

They fetch ingredients from cupboards, check and recheck the recipe and measure spices.

The class, four girls and two boys, splits into two groups. Most, though not all, of the chatter centers on the makings of the crispy cauliflower that goes into the vegetable bowl.

Bell asks: “Does everyone remember how to dredge?” He demonstrates how to cover the cauliflower pieces in the spices mix they have created.

Previous classes have covered knife skills. On this night, Bell shows them how to refine those skills: “Cut the cucumber into julienne strips first, then dice.”

The class also prepares cucumber salsa and baked pita chips as a garnish. The vegetable bowls take shape. The 90-minute class nears the end.

Parents, several of whom have been observing through a large window in the waiting room, move into the kitchen. Eating and more conversation, centered around the deliciousness of the dish, follows.

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Attending Young Chefs Academy, says Zach’s father, Matthew Houff, has changed his outlook on food as well as his future.

“They recently cooked a demonstration dinner for eight guests at Rockfield Manor. They prepared and served all the food, start to finish,” Houff says. “Zach is considering going to Harford Tech to continue cooking. It’s something he wants to do, and he looks forward to it every week.”

Young Chefs Academy

Young Chefs Academy offers interactive children’s cooking classes for ages 7 to 18. A single class costs $35 for 90 minutes. Membership is $99 per month for four classes. Each month features a theme such as Take Out/Fake Out, Healthy Comfort Food, Indian, Asian and Spanish Cuisine, and The Art of the Flavor Palate. Members earn patches for their white cooking jackets as they master certain skills. Advanced students earn a black cooking jacket to show that they have earned cooking proficiency.

This summer, Young Chefs Academy will offer four-day summer camps in the morning and afternoon for $230 per session. Registration and other details are available at belairmd.youngchefsacademny.com or by calling 443-470-8866.

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