QUEENS — A dozen teens met in Forest Hills on a recent Wednesday afternoon planning to cook up Halloween candy-topped cookies and Thai-style chicken pot pies. Their chopping wasn't the finest and they spilled some sauce, but the young cooks didn't get discouraged.
The chefs-in-training gather several times a week on 72nd Avenue near Queens Boulevard at the Young Chefs Academy, one of the few spots in the city where kids can learn and practice cooking.
Scott Weinblatt, a 16-year-old from Forest Hills, said he loved learning to cook at the school.
“I have a creative personality and cooking is creative, too," the 10th grader who attends Forest Hills High School said.
Chris Chesleigh, a Forest Hills resident, opened the school with his wife, Karen. They had about 20 students per week when they bought into the franchise seven years ago. Now, they have about 100 students, he said.
“The kids are amazing,” Chesleigh said. “They are not watching the cartoons anymore, they are watching these cooking TV shows.”
Students as young as 4 have made dill dip, pumpkin rolls and turkey pot pies, he said. Older kids make more complex dishes — once even tackling Julia Child’s famous beef bourguignon.
The classes usually revolve around themes like vegetarian or Mexican cuisine, or cooking gourmet dishes on a tight budget. Students also cook recipes by famous chefs including Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse and Giada De Laurentiis.
YCA student Tiffany McTowell, 14, said she cooks for her family using recipes she tried at the school.
“I’ve learned a lot of dishes here,” the Great Neck resident said, mentioning enchiladas as one of her favorites.
Sheryl Dyke, a middle school teacher, brings her daughter, Caitlyn, 13, from Eastchester in the Bronx.
“She wants to be a chef and open her own restaurant,” Dyke said about her daughter. “As long as she is loving it and she can keep her grades up, I’ll give up my Wednesdays and come here with her.”
YCA students study nutritional values, portion control and how to use leftovers, Chesleigh said. The full program starts with "kindercook" classes followed by sessions to become Junior Chefs and then Senior Chefs, but kids can join the academy at any time and stay for ast long as they wish.
The instructors try to vary the menu, Chesleigh said.
“In the seven years that we’ve been open, we haven’t repeated a recipe yet,” he said, adding that he wants to nurture kids' creativity.
“Kids see what happens when you put all that stuff together and how it comes out to be this great thing," he said.
At the end of each class, students get to taste what they made. They also get a copy of the recipes used.
Brianna Campbell, 14, a ninth grader from Rosedale whose father owns a Jamaican restaurant in Brooklyn, said she hoped the academy would teach her sophisticated cooking techniques.
“After that, I want to go to a culinary school and then travel the world to get to know different flavors,” she said. "Then, I hope to become a chef."
The Young Chefs Academy is located at 108-10 72nd Ave. in Forest Hills. For more information, visit www.youngchefsacademy.com/foresthills. A single class costs $35 (for members) or $45 (for non-members). A series of eight classes costs $299.