Photo Gallery | The Nutrition Center's Food Adventures expands to The Mount

LENOX ---Food and kids: It can go way beyond pizza, chicken nuggets and drinks and snacks that come in a pouch.

Last week, The Nutrition Center of the Berk shires expanded its Food Adventures program for youths to a new site at The Mount, author Edith Wharton's historic estate in Lenox.

This week, a new group of students are participating in the summer pilot program, which pairs kids and teens with local farm-to-table-practicing chefs and trained nutrition educators.

"We're always looking for community sites that might be appropriate for kids and have a tie-in for learning about food and nutrition," said Peter Stanton, director of The Nutrition Center, which is based in Pittsfield.

"A lot of our programming has been done through partnerships, and we thought it would be great for The Mount to do a camp at one point," said The Mount communications director Rebecka McDougall.

By chance last year, The Mount's staff got to meet Stanton and some of his staff.

Chef Katherine Miller of Kosmic Kitchen in Lee teaches students in the Food Adventures summer camp at The Mount in Lenox about how grains can be used to
Chef Katherine Miller of Kosmic Kitchen in Lee teaches students in the Food Adventures summer camp at The Mount in Lenox about how grains can be used to make sushi rolls. Clockwise from left, students Ashley Wellenkamp, 11, Liam Nester, 13, and Theo Maurino, 10, look on. ( Jenn Smith/Berkshire Eagle Staff/photos.berkshireeagle.com )
Soon afterward, the new collaboration got rolling.

"It's a perfect marriage of historic tradition and contemporary relevance," said Kelsey Mullen, education and public programs coordinator for The Mount.

The students were able to tour the grounds, investigate the kitchen tools in the scullery and learn about Wharton's travels to France and how it influenced the menu she offered to her guests in Lenox.

McDougall noted how Edith Wharton used to keep a kitchen garden and how the Whartons had a working farm at The Mount. "It went down to the shores of Laurel Lake, where they kept animals and a piggery," she said.

Though the kitchen garden has since grown over, McDougall said The Mount's stakeholders would eventually like to raise the funds to see it restored and used in community programs, like Food Adventures.

For the two weeks of programming, The Nutrition Center's Morgan Kulchinsky and Berkshire Co-op Market education and outreach coordinator Jenny Schwartz helped transform The Mount's Georgian Revival stable into a pop-up prep kitchen and dining room for the kids and chefs to work in.

The first weeklong pilot session concluded on Thursday with a morning lesson in table setting and the proper use of cutlery from Diane Massey of the Berkshire School of Etiquette. Then Chef Katherine Miller of Kosmic Kitchen taught students how to make vegan "tuna" stuffed tomatoes and vegetable-based "sushi" rolls, made with the grains quinoa and amaranth, and nori and collard green wraps.

"Could you please pass the scallions," Miller asked one of the students. The youngster took a moment to pick the allium with the long, hollow green leaves and tiny bulbs out of a lineup of produce and hand it to her.

Each day of the program, each student is outfitted with his or her own cutting mat and kid-safe cutting knife, and other dishes and utensils they might need. Each student is also assigned an additional role, whether it be server, busser or dishwasher.

When each course is served, Kulchinsky and Schwartz also talk about nutrition following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Choose My Plate" model, which portions among the outline of a plate, how to balance servings of fruits, grains, proteins, vegetables and dairy.

Miller said she's never taught in a program or context like Food Adventures, but said, "I love what they're doing."

She talked to the students about how at age 15, she became a vegetarian "and began learning and studying about and experimenting with food."

The youths in the workshop said they could relate.

"I just love cooking food," said Ashley Wellenkamp, 11, who has taken school-based Food Adventures classes at Muddy Brook Elementary and Monument Valley Middle schools in Great Barrington.

Liam Nester, 13, of Pittsfield worked on garnishing his sushi rolls with sprigs of cilantro and broccoli sprouts. "Ever since I was little, I've been interested in food and wanted to learn to cook. Cooking is what I've wanted to do; either that or the Navy."

Earlier last week, the students also got to cook with Chef Daire Rooney of Allium in Great Barrington. They talked about the importance of eating breakfast, then made savory crepes and frappes with hand-squeezed orange juice.

This week's group of students is scheduled to work with Chef Dan Smith from John Andrews Restaurant and Chef Stephen Browning from the Prairie Whale, both located in Great Barrington.

Said Stanton of the partnership with area chefs, "It shows their commitment to cooking education and the importance of bringing these essential skills to the next generation. These lessons can last a lifetime for a child."

To learn more about The Mount, visit edithwharton.org. To learn more about The Nutrition Center, visit thenutritioncenter.org.