Mike Holcombe has seen Scouts who were afraid to stir soup. Chip Goss has watched Scouts turn rice pilaf into charcoal, despite his frequent reminders to check the pot. Both have eaten enough half-cooked pancakes and overdone burgers to last a lifetime.
This summer, the two Scouters teamed up to lead the inaugural Chef Prep camp at the Connecticut Rivers Council’s June Norcross Webster Scout Reservation. Their goal was to help Scouts earn the Eagle-required Cooking merit badge and acquire the skills they need to thrive in camp, at home and in a commercial kitchen. Scouting caught up with them to learn the secrets of culinary counseling.
Goss, a trained chef and food service director at Connecticut River Academy, can tell at a glance how many cups of water are in a pan or determine with a taste what’s missing from a dish. His Scouts, on the other hand, might not know a saucepan from a stockpot. He’s careful not to assume they know their way around a kitchen.
“As a chef, I have to remind myself that not everybody is practiced in holding their hand in a certain way and getting a perfect teaspoon or a perfect tablespoon of salt or pepper,” he says.
To make sure Scouts are ready for the Cooking merit badge, Holcombe, a longtime Scouter, recommends they reach First Class rank first. That way, he says, “they’ve had some exposure to dealing with food; they’ve had to cut it, they’ve had to stir it, they’ve had to put it on the fire. If they come in cold turkey, I think you’re just making it harder on them.”
While most Scout cooking is decidedly low-tech, Goss says smartphones can make cooking easier and more interesting. Rather than hand Scouts a cookbook, for example, he’ll have them look up recipes on their phones. And he knows using a timer app might prevent a Scout from turning his spaghetti into wallpaper paste.
“As leaders, we have to recognize that sometimes the technology is there for the good,” Goss says.
Make It Real
Each time a Scout cooks for the badge — whether at home, in camp or on the trail — he is supposed to ask those he has served to evaluate his efforts. To make this process more real in camp, Holcombe invites staff members to lunch each day, including the camp nurse, the office clerk and assorted staffers he affectionately calls “the vultures.”
Not surprisingly, the Scouts perform better when people are counting on them.
“I think they take a lot of pride in it,” Holcombe says. “It’s like, ‘I made this.’ ”
Prepare Them for Life
When he got his first cooking job, Goss knew how to cook, but he didn’t know the right terminology, which meant he started as a line cook instead of a master cook. So he emphasizes both techniques and terms when he teaches the badge.
But he says the badge is important whether Scouts go pro or not.
“Cooking is the one merit badge everybody can use,” he says. “Don’t treat it as just another merit badge. Treat it as a tool for living.”
For more tips for working on merit badges with your Scouts, check out scoutingmagazine.org/mbclinic
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