Recipe for success

Youths gobbling up new skills at culinary camp in Miami Gardens

Erick Johnson | 7/31/2014, 9 a.m.
The dish for the day was curry chicken, but not the kind from the West Indies. Everyone knows that kind ...

The dish for the day was curry chicken, but not the kind from the West Indies. Everyone knows that kind from the Caribbean. It was time to cook something different.

That would be curry chicken from India, a region where spices and flavor are heavier and more abundant. The chicken would be paired with mango chutney, a thick flavorful sauce with a kick and seasoned Basmati Rice, a popular starch in the India.

The dish would be the day's lesson for about 17 youths participating in Miami Gardens new culinary arts summer camp, a nine-week program

that's been sizzling among youths who learn how to cook up exotic dishes demonstrating the protocols and etiquettes of fine dining.

For nearly two hours at a makeshift kitchen in Buccaneer Park, students eagerly followed Chef Dario Stephen as he taught the culinary customs of India in a no-nonsense way.

"India has a lot going on," said Stephen "The food there has so much too it."

That reality was a challenge to the young chefs as they fumbled over the many spices and seasoning from the day's dish. The students, whose ages range from 10 to 14 years old never had Indian food or experience their culture.


The lessons started with a drizzle of olive oil in a hot pan. Then, a cup chopped onions is added and stirred with the oil. With the help of staff members, students turn down the heat under the pan to allow the mix onions. Suddenly, an aroma fills the room.

"It smells so good," said Jasmine Williams, 11.

"It sure does," replied Stephen.

Then it was time to season the chicken breasts. Students took turns with salt and pepper, heavy curry, ground ginger, onion powder and basil.

The young chefs then added the well-seasoned chicken breasts to the pan.

"There's a physical reaction when the heat hits the protein which makes the color of the chicken turn brown."

"Be careful with the chili powder. It makes you cough," Stephen warned.

During the lesson, the class was divided into two groups of boys and girls. The groups had their own cooking stations. Ja 'Niece Kirkland, 11, known as the "Queen of Culinary" to her peers did most of the cooking for her group. At the boys' table, 12-year-old Jahaad Pennywell was the chef in charge.


Between the two groups, the girls seemed more excited and eager. They breezed through the lessons while the boys slowly moved along with the preparations. But the cooking lessons were more about learning and having fun rather than competing against one another.

"I want to be a chef," said Kirkland. "I love to cook and eat."

After smothering the simmering chicken with coconut oil, students added more seasoning before placing the pans in an oven. 10 minutes later, the dish was ready. The students then made mango chutney, adding vinegar, sugar, garlic and cinnamon to slices of mango that were simmering in olive oil.

Nann, a popular Indian bread, was supposed to be eaten with the sauce, but Stevens was unable to find the bread at the supermarket that morning.