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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Bryce Palmer carefully cracks an egg into a bowl at a Young Chefs Academy class.

DRAPER — What does fresh pasta dough look like?

"It looks like yellow ... stuff," commented 8-year-old Elizabeth Ericksen of Draper, watching as she stirred eggs and flour together in a bowl.

Ericksen was one of 10 children taking a pasta-making class at the Young Chefs Academy earlier this month. The academy, which opened about three months ago, is a franchise that offers children's cooking classes. Although there are 190 outlets in the country, the Draper outlet is the first in Utah. Most classes are geared for ages 7-14, with special classes designed for younger chefs ages 4-6.

During the summer months, parents can harness some of their kids' free time by helping them improve their cooking skills. It's entertaining, and the results are usually a tasty bonus. There's also a future pay-off when kids can begin fixing dinner or whipping up a family treat on their own.

The Young Chefs Academy and other local classes are a good starting point, although parents can always pull out some kid-friendly recipes and hold their own class at home.

On a Monday afternoon, franchise owners John Beutler and Wendy Dismuke were showing kids how to make pasta.

The budding cooks practiced skills, such as measuring flour and cracking an egg without getting bits of shell into the bowl. Three-year-old Bryce Palmer managed this feat, with the yolk and white exploding into a bowl and leaving the shell behind. A tip from Beutler is to crack the egg into a small bowl first, so you can remove any shells before you add the egg to other ingredients.

"If it's your last ingredient and you dump a lot of the eggshell in with all the other ingredients, it's kind of hard to fish it out," he said.

Dismuke advised that you can use the bigger shell to help fish out any little bits, "because it's like a magnet to help you get it out."

After stirring the egg with the flour to form the dough, the students took turns cranking the pasta machine that rolls out the dough and cuts it into strips. "They look like little worms!" exclaimed several of the kids.

The students mixed basil, oregano and rosemary with softened butter that they smeared on the cooked pasta. When they dug in, Ericksen took a bite and exclaimed, "Bon appetit!"

"I like the way you think, little one," Beutler replied.

The company headquarters creates the recipes and teaching plans for the 90-minute classes, which cost $20. Each month has a theme. April was Italian dishes, where the kids learned how to make things like minestrone soup. May had a Cinco de Mayo theme with Mexican dishes, but the pasta class is taught every Monday. The duo also donates classes for Boys and Girls Clubs and other community groups.

"They go home with the recipe, and we've pretty much taught them everything they need to know to make their recipes," said Dismuke.

"The fun thing is the parents who are calling and saying their kids made Sunday dinner, or that Joey's eating lettuce for the first time," Beutler said. "If they make the sauces themselves, they're more interested in eating it."

Beutler started out as a software engineer, but he and Dismuke wanted to own some type of business that involved connecting with children.

"I saw a Young Chefs Academy in Oregon and fell in love with it," Dismuke said. "I adore kids and I love cooking. You're teaching this lifelong skill. I think it's so important to know the basics."

Interestingly enough, class registration for boys outnumbers the girls 5-1, Beutler said. "I'll take four phone calls it a row that will be for boys," he said. "Cooking is making a comeback, kids are switching back and forth between the Disney Channel and the cooking channel."

For birthdays, they offer a pizza party where the kids help make their own minipizzas.

"We've done 30 birthday parties since we've opened, and other locations across the country only average six to eight a month," said Dismuke.

This summer, the duo plans to start a chef club, where kids receive a chef's jacket after they attend a number of classes and pass quizzes on the class material. They will also host minicamps that run for several hours on consecutive days. As the schedule is completed, it will be posted on the company Web site at youngchefsacademy.com/draper.

Parents who want to spend quality time with their kids this summer should head to the kitchen, said Lacey Lee, who is teaching a four-week series of children's classes at Ace Hardware in North Salt Lake. Cooking helps stimulate creativity and is a confidence-booster, she said.

"I come from a very athletic, competitive family, and I found that cooking is the one thing you don't have to compete in," Lee said. "You can create something on your own and feel that you've accomplished something. You don't have to worry about winning or losing or being chosen last on the team. And I believe that everyone has the ability to learn something in the kitchen."

She added that growing up, she was allowed one hour of TV-watching per day. "My mom felt it was very important to foster our imagination and creativity," she said. "So instead of watching TV, we learned a lot of things like cooking and sewing and how to change a tire."

Cooking is also a bonding experience, she said. "I have 19 nieces and nephews, and I was a nanny for two years, and I've never had a kid who doesn't want to help me in the kitchen."

The first class in Lee's four-week series discusses kitchen equipment and safety, with recipes for simple snacks.

"I want to start out introducing them to the kitchen, because I know some kids who have never touched a spatula or know what it's used for," she said. Through the weeks the kids progress to breads, cakes and entrees such as lasagna.

"As the weeks go on, they will certainly learn enough to be able to help Mom with dinner. A 7- or 8-year-old would just need to have their parents take it out of the oven."

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