This summer, the L'Ecole Culinaire Academy for Culinary Development offered a kids cooking camp for the first time. Campers could come for a day or several weeks. Each day featured a different culinary adventure, ranging in complexity from making smoothies to tempering chocolate.

Of all the days, one in particular stood out for director and chef Matthew Borchardt, as the kids had changed their minds about what they wanted to cook - influenced the direction of the curriculum.

“It was a total spur of the moment thing,” Borchardt explained. The plan for the day had been to make a grilled chicken salad, but that changed because, “the kids saw us preparing Hawaiian Chicken Tacos for the lunch service [at the adjoining Presentation Room, where adult students serve lunch daily] and got excited about them. I asked if they wanted to make that instead of the chicken salad, and they said ‘yes.’”

With today’s parents working longer hours, and even multiple jobs, today’s youth are often left to fend for themselves in the kitchen, especially around dinner time. As such, they want to be excited about what they’re preparing and eating, and not revert to the same-old recipes.

The L’Ecole camp kids responded very well to the chicken tacos that day. “They loved them,” Borchardt says. “We set out a garnish buffet so they could assemble their own tacos.” Some kids opted for just chicken and cheddar cheese, but others were more adventurous, dipping into the barbeque sauce, red cabbage slaw, macadamia nuts and cilantro.

Campers prepped and cooked the chicken for their own meal, with varying amounts of assistance according to their skill set. “Everything we did during kids’ camps was designed to repeat at home, but some of the techniques, like grilling, or cooking in a sauté pan, might require some supervision.”

Borchardt reports that some of the kids were surprisingly timid about things like handling a knife or dealing with raw chicken, but added that “it was gratifying that so many of them found it so interesting. After spending four and a half hours a day with me for five days, they were high-fiving me.”

The recipe:

Hawaiian Chicken Tacos

With help in preparing the chicken the day before, kids with experience in the kitchen can easily take on the rest of the prep work and assembly of this dish.


Yields | 12 tacos |

  • 1 each whole chicken, roasted
  • ¼ cup barbecue spice rub
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 2 cups preferred barbecue sauce
  • 1 head red cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup macadamia nuts, toasted
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, whole leaves
  • 12 each flour tortillas or 24 each corn tortillas

| Preparation | The day before serving, rub whole chicken inside and out with barbecue spice rub, salt and pepper. Roast in a dutch oven at 325*F until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160°F. Let chicken cool to room temperature and remove all of the meat from the bird. If desired, save bones to make stock. Coat the picked chicken with barbecue sauce and either use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. Once you are ready to use the chicken, warm in a covered dish in a 300°F oven until warm, 10 to 20 minutes.

Shred cabbage as thin as possible. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar and mix well. Mix into shredded cabbage to make slaw. If desired, other vegetable like grated carrot or scallion may be incorporated into the slaw. Place in refrigerator to cool until ready to use.

Toast macadamia nuts in a 325°F oven until browned. Chop coarsely.

| Assembly | Warn either type of tortillas on a dry sauté pan over low heat. Fill with desired amount of warm chicken and top with creamy cabbage slaw, toasted Macadamia nuts and garnish with fresh cilantro.

L'Ecole Culinaire Academy for Culinary Development, 9200 Olive Blvd., Suite 108, Olivette, 314.264.1999,

With a stronger-than-ever national focus on what kids are eating, we’re looking at how St. Louis-area culinary instructors, educators, chefs and parents are getting children excited about cooking and making smart food choices. Every week, we bring you tips, recipes, dining-out ideas, hands-on activities and more.

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