Cooking skills honed at a young age can create lifelong culinary passions.

It was almost like an episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped,” as 14 students got excited about cooking at the “Basic Food Prep” class July 8 at Central Texas College’s College for Kids summer program.

Chef Virgil Guy started cooking in the third grade and said children should learn cooking early.

“Kids love to make things, and when you show them how easy it is, they grasp the idea right away,” Guy said.

During the six-hour class, students learned important kitchen skills, including safe food handling, food preparation and proper knife usage. The end result was making chicken lazone, a boneless, skinless chicken breast with herbs and vegetables in a cream sauce over noodles.

Lesson one was waking up the herbs that grew in containers from the indoor garden.

“You need to smack them awake,” said Guy, as he slapped basil leaves between his hands. “This brings the juices and flavors to the surface,” he said.

The savory lab in the culinary arts department provided a professional work environment complete with stoves, grills, refrigerators, utensils and ingredients. Each student worked at a station equipped with a mixing bowl, a cutting board and knives.

Overhead TV monitors let the students see everything the chef demonstrated.

First on the chopping block was peeling and slicing carrots. Guy made small cuts around the carrot with a paring knife, and twisted it off forming a flower. Three assistants, along with Guy, worked with the students showing the technique again.

“Hold the knife this way to make tiny cuts,” said assistant Aaron Adams to a student.

Adams is a senior at Ellison high school and enrolled in the early college program earning credits toward a culinary arts certificate.

“I hope students will practice these skills and share them with their families and friends,” he said.

Hannah Braegelmann, 14, is more interested in baking than cooking but saw the value in taking the class.

“I figured this class would help me learn creative, funky things to do in the kitchen,” Braegelmann said.

At another station, Ryan Dane, 10, gingerly sliced his second carrot, since he messed up the first one.

“I like everything about cooking. Even though I’m not good at it yet, it will benefit me,” he said.

Cooking is not as complicated as it seems, said assistant Donovan Palmer, who is close to graduating from the culinary arts program.

“It’s a lot easier and once they get into it, cooking is fun and makes them want to cook at home,” Palmer said.

And crunching on one of her carrot flowers, Alyesha Degrasse, 12, said a mouthful: “I like learning different ways to make food taste good so I can be a better cook.”

For more information, call the continuing education office at 254-526-1586.

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