PUBLISHED: 11:41 22 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:19 20 February 2013
At Cassia Kidron's new cookery school, Root Camp teenagers learn the real value of food, writes Chrissie Williams
Root camp is a new residential cookery school and field course, where teenagers get the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen and on the farm learning about the real value of food, its sourcing, preparation and enjoyment.
It is the brainchild of Cassia Kidron, a passionate self-taught cook. The idea for Root Camp formed gradually as I continually allowed my children to escape any domestic responsibilities, explained Cassia. It was easier to let them concentrate on their homework, whilst I prepared all our meals. Eventually I realised they would be leaving home without knowing how to chop an onion. I set about teaching them and their friends to cook at weekends. In those days we called it Teen Cuisine. It was a great success.
Its about learning the basics and playing with them. And its about clearing up!
Last half term I got the chance, with my daughter, to spend a day as Root campers at the Rill estate near Buckfastleigh. On arrival, we were met by a muddy group of students just back from the fields, where they had been planting garlic and indulging in a hearty mud fight. We were also greeted by the aroma of garlic and freshly made bread wafting from the kitchen, where the cooks were busy under the watchful eye of Sylvain Jamois.
Root campers cook for one another. Divided into two groups, the teenagers spent four hours a day working in the fields under the supervision of Riverford staff, and even longer back at the farm cooking. The morning field workers are greeted with lunch, then the mornings cooks go to the field, and have supper on their return.
All meals are eaten together and our lunch was no exception. We were treated to foccacia, sweetcorn fritters, homemade chilli sauce, green risottos, salad with dressings, poached pears with chocolate sauce, and apple juice from apples picked and pressed by the kids the day before. It was truly scrumptious.
The atmosphere at the table was buzzing and teasingly competitive. After plates of fritters and bowls of risotto were compared, the conversation turned to the triumphs of previous dishes. The day before, in glorious sunshine, a Middle Eastern feast had been eaten on the lawn. Mouth-watering dishes had included marinated red gurnard and sardines, tabbouleh, Moroccan carrot salad, a selection of hummus and caramelised oranges.
Everyone was also keen to chat about Root Camps supper guests. Each evening a special guest joined them for supper. The previous evening it had been Guy Watson from Riverford, and during the lively discussion the teenagers had challenged him on his relationship with Abel & Cole! Later in the week they were to cook for William Lana of Greenfibres, Rod of Rod and Bens soups, before ending the week with a honey-tasting session with food writer Hattie Ellis.
Cooking and eating together is a huge source of pleasure
Nicely full from lunch, in the afternoon we joined the group out in the field, where the field supervisor who they nicknamed Farmer Ed took us through the fields at Riverford offering nuggets of information, from the practicalities of planting, to facts about wastage of produce, comparisons between varieties of spinach and sweetcorn, explaining how the fields are managed and protected, and the role of polytunnels.
By the end of the afternoon we were soaked through, with mud caked to our boots, but it had been really inspiring and great fun. Meanwhile, the group would be back out again the next day to plant garlic, harvest spinach and radicchio and pick winter salads.
Back in the kitchen, Sylvain, The Boss, commanded an informal respect as he managed each cook, and encouraged them to try new techniques and keep their station tidy. I want the students to have the confidence to interpret recipes and be creative with ingredients, he explained. Its about learning the basics and playing with them. And its about clearing up! Sylvain had tips for every question asked: how to prepare a tin for baking; cut an onion; peel garlic; stop egg custard curdling; prevent pastry from cracking.
The Root Campers we joined ranged in age from 14-17 years, with students coming from a variety of backgrounds and parts of the country. A few of the places were sponsored. This is important, as I want Root Camp to be for children who want to cook, no matter what their financial circumstances are, says Cassia. The course is hard work and fun the two things can go together and thats an important lesson too.
As Sylvain reminded us before we left: These teenagers have learned how to cook recipes and how they can adapt them, lots of dishes they can easily cook for themselves at home. Theyre walking away with a lot more than they realise. Its a tough week and I think itll take a while for all of the lessons to sink in.
By the end of the afternoon we were soaked through, with mud caked to our boots, but it had been really inspiring and great fun
It certainly is an intensive week up at 6.30am and in the field or kitchen by 7.30am. Theres not a lot of free time, though in the evenings, after supper, the kids chill out with chocolate and watch food-related DVDs everything from Food Inc, a documentary on Americas corporate-controlled food industry, to the animated Ratatouille and iconic Delicatessen.
As we headed off for home, the cooking group was putting the finishing touches to dinner. On the menu was pan-fried chicken breast, roasted chicken legs, spinach and blue cheese tart, carrots en papillote, lentils, and upside-down cake with egg custard. As we left the buzz of the kitchen behind us, my daughter said: I wish I was staying, I really feel part of it all.
Despite the lack of sleep, whats been surprising is the camaraderie, the energy and the spirit of these youngsters. As Cassia said: Cooking and eating together is a huge source of pleasure, and over the week these Root Campers really discovered this.
Venue: on the beautiful Rill Estate in Buckfastleigh
Fieldwork takes place on the nearby Riverford organic farm
The cook is Sylvain Jamois freelance chef, Riverford Organics Cook, previously Head Chef at Moro in London
Whats included: tuition, food and accommodation.
Cost: 410 plus travel
Future dates: 27-31 March at Trill Farm, near Axminster. Other dates during the summer to be confirmed
For enquiries and information, for individuals and schools, visit http://www.rootcamp.co.uk/index.php or telephone 07816 815656.
To sponsor a student telephone 07816 815656