October 20, 2021

High schoolers prep for culinary boot camp: ‘It looks like a challenge. But what’s life without challenges?’

Mysheeke Glover considers zucchini alfredo his signature dish — for now. But the budding chef…

Mysheeke Glover considers zucchini alfredo his signature dish — for now.

But the budding chef will soon start a culinary boot camp that aims to expose students from under-resourced communities to new cuisines and kitchen techniques, giving the incoming senior at south suburban Homewood Flossmoor High School a chance to expand his horizons.

Though daunting, Glover said he’s excited to hone his craft during the immersive program.

“It looks like a challenge. But what’s life without challenges?” Glover told the Chicago Sun-Times during an orientation Sunday afternoon. “You gotta go through the obstacles to see the endgame of what you want in life.”

Mysheeke Glover is a student enrolled in the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.

Mysheeke Glover is a student enrolled in the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Glover is among the 17 high school students enrolled in this year’s Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp, a program funded by the Kendall College Trust that’s now in its fifth year. Though previous iterations allowed students to stay at the culinary school’s dormitories and cook at its facilities, this year’s camp is going virtual amid the pandemic.

On Sunday, the students met for the first time at a Mariano’s grocery store in Greektown, where they collected cooking supplies, groceries for the five-day camp and graduation gifts tucked into Crate & Barrel boxes and topped with bows. Each night, the students will use their own kitchens to cook different recipes for their families.

The camp is being led by Lisa Counts, a Kendall College graduate who has worked at a list of top restaurants, including Spiaggia, the revered Italian spot in the Gold Coast that recently closed. Counts now serves as the chief instructor at The Chopping Block, a recreational cooking school based in Chicago that partnered with Yes, Chef!

Lisa Counts is a chef and the instructor for the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.

Lisa Counts is a chef and the instructor for the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Given her Italian heritage, Counts said she’s most excited to teach the kids how to make braciole, stuffed and rolled beef that’s braised in a tomato sauce.

“I love the fact that they’re excited to cook,” Counts said. “I feel like cooking is one of those skills that is the foundation of everything. It’s life skills. It’s not just going to work in restaurants. It’s organization. It’s being self-sustainable. Just knowing how to throw together something is a huge skill that not a lot of people know.”

Catherine De Orio, the trust’s executive director, noted that a list of past campers have gone on to attend culinary school, including an alumnus who was enrolled at Kendall College when he contracted COVID-19 and died at just 20.

“He unfortunately passed before we could see all his potential realized,” she said. “So that was hard for us.”

De Orio — the former host of PBS’ hit show “Check, Please!” — said planning this year’s program as the pandemic raged amounted to “a labor of love.” Through it all, she has remained committed to the trust’s goal of nurturing students with a “spark” for cooking.

“For us it was important to create this community where the students felt supported.”

Catherine De Orio, Executive director of the Kendall College Trust, speaks to the students about the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.

Catherine De Orio, executive director of the Kendall College Trust, speaks to the students about the Yes, Chef! Culinary Camp. Sunday, July 11, 2021.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times