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Culinary Dreams

Lunch For Campers Promotes Nutrition, Table Manners


August 06, 2011

The 260 children attending the Dream Camp this week were treated Thursday to a special luncheon provided by the owners of highly acclaimed Philadelphia restaurants Vetri Ristorante, Osteria and Amis Trattoria.

Iron Chef winners Marc Vetri and Jeff Michaud served the luncheon to the campers, providing a three-course meal served family style at eight-person round tables. It included a romaine lettuce and shaved carrot salad, panzanella, baked cod and a melon salad. While family-style eating is an important part of Dream Camp, the fare from Vetri Ristorante made the meal extra special.

"The majority of these kids have never had fresh fruit, never sat family style at a table to eat, never had to set a table before," said Dream Camp Executive Director Michael Rouse.

The camp, in its 14th summer at Trinity College, is free to children ages 6 to 16 from low-income families. The selection process is highly competitive; often children are required to have a recommendation from a teacher or coach. Once admitted to the program, children are guaranteed the option to return each year.

Trinity College President, James F. Jones Jr., said Dream Camp is "one of the most transformative concepts I have ever seen, ever."

"It teaches these children demonstrative skills ... how to swim, nutrition, group activities; they build tepees out on the quadrangle. The vast majority are minorities from less-than-privileged backgrounds. If you read their faces, you can read hope," Jones said.

Jones said he asked a young girl if she sat down with her family to "eat like this" at home. She answered, "Yes, because I took over at home after I learned how."

Camp staffer Mary Franco, of Hartford, said her son, Darien, will be the third former Dream Camper to attend Trinity College, where he will start as a freshman this fall. Darien has also worked as a counselor at Dream Camp in the past.

Thursday's event was made even more special by the fact that it was campers who took on the roles of servers. "Table captains" were selected for outstanding leadership and good behavior demonstrated throughout the five-week summer camp. They were in charge of serving the food, making sure everyone had fair portions, initiating polite conversation at their table and helping to clean up.

Nakaeli Garnett, 7, of Hartford, said as table captain she was excited to eat the meal, which she described as "corn with roasted bread, salad, dressing, and fish." Before she could say more about the food, she politely excused herself to resume her responsibilities. "Now I have to pass out the salad," she said.

"It's delicious - my compliments to the chef!" said Nathaniel Rivera, 11, of Hartford. "This is my first time eating cod. I used to hate seafood."

The children were reminded that trying all of the foods would win points for their "Summer Survival" teams.

"The camp is split in half into two teams, one gold, one blue," said camp counselor Ricky Underdown, 21, of London, England. "We organize them in tournaments for soccer and basketball; they also get points for good behavior."

Underdown is spending his third summer in Hartford working as a Dream Camp staffer. "I'm the only English counselor," he said. He got the job through a program in England that staffs 2,000 summer camps. "This camp was ranked No. 1," Underdown said.

Rouse said this lunch experience, while a special treat at Hartford's Dream Camp, is a daily occurrence at Philadelphia's Dream Camp.

"This is what lunch is like every single day in Philadelphia," said Vetri family partner Jeff Benjamin. The Vetri group has partnered with Philadelphia's Dream Camp to provide healthy, organic lunches for the cost of $2.20 a child.

"If this same menu was offered by a big corporation, it would cost $12," Benjamin said. "A lot of it is cost-effective because we are able to source local farm-fresh items, there's no distribution cost, no packaging cost."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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