More than a dozen teenagers gather around as chef Larry Matson shows them a new trick and puts them on their way to becoming master chefs.

The 17 students ranging in age from 13 to 17 took part in Tyler Junior College’s first Culinary Camp in the newly renovated Culinary Arts facility on campus.

Matson, who serves as the Culinary Arts department chair, said the camp was one of the activities he wanted to launch when he was brought on to help guide the fledgling program.

Matson said he designed the camp to appeal to teens who enjoy cooking, but don’t necessarily want to pursue it as a career.

The first few days they worked on various recipes using chicken in a classroom equipped with an industrial kitchen.

“There was a lot of chicken,” said Katie Haddish, 14. “Fried chicken was the best.”

Haddish said she enjoyed the camaraderie of working on the recipes with the other campers and liked that the camp was a much more professional environment than she had expected.

Matson joked it might have been too professional at first and toned down the pace to match their skill level.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.

On Thursday, students learned several skills in order to make strawberry shortcake, from baking basics to cleaning and cutting fruit.

They separated into small groups and worked to find the best methods for tasks such as peeling a kiwi.

Students got hands-on experience with professional utensils, industrial cooking setups and ovens that make the ones at their home look like toys.

Culinary Camp, with 17 students for its first run, proved to be a hit. The Junior Chef Summer Camp will be Monday through Friday for children ages 8 to 12.

TJC Summer Camps continue through Aug. 16. For more information, visit TJCSummerCamps.com.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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