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Young chefs cook up White House fare

  • Story Highlights
  • Young Chefs Academy offers cooking classes to children across country
  • Party at Pennsylvania Avenue Camp lets kids prepare White House dishes
  • Former White House chef recalls preparing pastries for 1,200 people in one day
  • Eating together is important for first families, former White House chef says
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By Aspen Steib
CNN
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FOREST HILLS, New York (CNN) -- Imagine being invited to the White House for one of those lavish state dinners -- with menu items like Herb Roasted Lollipop Lamb Chops, Sweet Potato Soufflé or Chocolate Peppermint Cookies.

The young chefs at the Forest Hills, New York, class were joined by the head chef and several assistants.

The class enables youngsters to prepare dishes that have been on the menu at the White House.

While most Americans are unlikely to receive a personal invitation from President Obama, you can still have White House-quality food in your own home. A program called the Young Chefs Academy offers cooking classes to children across the country.

"Whether you're young or old, who hasn't wondered what it would be like to have dinner at the White House?" Suzy Vinson Nettles, co-founder of the Young Chefs Academy, said in a statement.

Recently, seven youngsters gathered at the Young Chefs Academy franchise in Forest Hills, New York, for a Party at Pennsylvania Avenue Camp. The academy's Forest Hills location is operated by a husband-and-wife team, Chris and Karen Chesleigh.

The young chefs ranged in age from 8 to 14. Karen Chesleigh served as head chef.

The menu for the party consisted of Madison Cakes, a Chartreuse Vegetable Mold, Chicken Croquettes and patriotic Petit-Fours.

Young chef Daniel Flowers, 9, was eager to get started. "I've been here like two years. I really like it here," he said.

During the three-hour class, not one child appeared bored or ready to leave.

"It makes it fun because it's like, we don't have to follow recipes, and we don't have to make it how they say, because then it gets boring," said 10-year-old Ben Gargan.

The Young Chefs Academy strives to make sure all recipes are White House-authentic.

"Our corporate curriculum department at our Texas headquarters did a ton of research ... [including] sourcing recipes from White House cookbooks and interviews with past White House executive chefs for insight," the academy says.

In keeping with the presidential theme, head chef Karen Chesleigh asked the young cooks presidential trivia questions: "Does anybody know which president ... said that meat was a condiment for his vegetables?"

The children all shouted different answers until someone finally answered correctly: Thomas Jefferson.

The camp also teaches children how to prepare a state dinner for 75 guests.

If anyone knows how to prepare meals for large parties, it's former White House Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. He sometimes had to prepare pastries for 1,200 guests in one day.

"It's roughly 12,000 to 13,000 pieces of cookies and cakes for a party that size ... and all of that was produced in the White House when I was there," said Mesnier. "I'm very proud of that."

Mesnier was the longest-running White House chef, serving 26 years and five different presidents.

Throughout the class, students were taught to properly measure ingredients, safely break eggs and how to chop different ingredients.

Youngest chef Kaitlin Singer, 8, took time to properly cut her chicken for the Chicken Croquettes because she wanted it to be visibly appealing.

"I think it's important because if you're having a dinner at the White House for very important people, you want it to look really nice," Singer said.

Both head chef Karen Chesleigh and former White House chef Mesnier agree that proper presentation of the food is vital.

"It's very important to have the visual aspect of something first, and then the great taste," said Mesnier.

Karen Chesleigh agreed. "You eat with your eyes first," she said.

When the chefs finished preparing the main courses, it was time to decorate the Petit-Fours -- in red, white and blue. Each child made sure to use all three colors and to finish off the dessert with sprinkles on top.

After three hours, of preparation, it was time to sample the wares. Everyone sat around the table to eat and to discuss why they believe the first family dines together.

"They talk about how their day went and to spend time with the family ... that's why they eat dinner together," said young chef Jessica Rufle, 14.

Amandaly Diaz, 11, had everyone laughing with the statement: "They talk about stuff we don't understand!"

Mesnier agreed that eating together was important to the first families.

"Most of the families I've served, they were very strict on dinnertime and lunchtime. Every family member that [was] in the house had to be there on time around the table."

One young chef who cringed when he saw the spinach at the beginning of the class ate every crumb of the Chartreuse Vegetable Mold, which included spinach.

There is one ingredient sometimes used in the White House that is off-limits to these young chefs.

"You can go on by putting a little spirit in your dessert ... and that might create a few more smiles and laughter around the table," said Mesnier.

The Young Chefs Academy is headquartered in Waco, Texas, and includes more than 100 franchise locations nationwide. Nettles and Julie Fabing Burleson co-founded the academy in 2003.

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