Program for Adolescents Aims to Create Community Through Culinary Arts

The Foundation for Culinary Arts is stirring up what they’re calling a “recipe for success” with cooking classes for adolescents.

The week-long summer camp started in 2016 and has since grown into a hybrid program with a virtual experience. Arts Correspondent Angel Idowu introduces us to the Yes Chef! Culinary Camp.

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“A big part of building a community is sharing food with each other,” said Catherine De Orio, executive director of the Foundation for Culinary Arts.

The Yes Chef! Culinary Camp is a free community fostered by the Foundation for Culinary Arts for under-resourced Chicago Public Schools students from ages 13 to 18. After several weeklong summer programs, the organization decided to kick off a series of two-day virtual camps, beginning this fall.

“We provide pots and pans, first aid kits, and disinfecting kits,” De Orio said. “We also provide groceries. Not just the food to make the recipe, but enough to cook for their entire family.” 

A lot of them are a part of the economic structure of their home,” De Orio continues. “They can’t stay in the dorm for a week. So being in their house they are still able to be a part of what the family needs and learn something along the way.”

The lessons are taught by Lisa Counts, who teaches virtually from the Chopping Block in Lincoln Square.

“I love being able to see the kids do their work in their own kitchen,” said Counts, executive chef at the Chopping Block. “But I always say if you know how to cook in your kitchen you’ll be set for life.”

With more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen, Counts says cooking is an important life skill because it encourages self-sustainability, among other things. 

“Nutrition is a huge part of cooking,” Counts said. “Reading labels, visiting farmers markets and knowing where your food comes from and how to prepare it properly ensures that it tastes good. We put that nutrition info into camp.”

While the Yes Chef! Culinary Camp offers classes both online and in person, their goal remains the same.

“Once you have basic skills in the kitchen, the sky is the limit,” De Orio says.

The program is still taking applications for a fall bootcamp on Sept. 24 and 25. If you miss that one, they’re also offering a holiday baking class on Nov. 20.

To apply visit

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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