August 11, 2021—Summer camp is, by nature, a situation fraught with concerns for those charged with feeding campers. From the need to produce large quantities of meals that recharge young minds and bodies while pleasing everyone in short time periods, to an acute awareness of food allergies and food safety, the task is no walk in the park, as it were. This year, layer on the dangers of COVID-19 and the low vaccination rates of youngsters and the concerns and challenges are only heightened.
CulinArt managers overseeing such operations, however, stepped up to the task in typical fashion.
One of those operations is Camp Winacka, a Girl Scout camp in the mountains northeast of San Diego where, this summer, CulinArt has been feeding approx. 200 Scouts and 50 staff three meals a day. Campers range in age from six to 18 and present a variety of dietary needs when they sit down to dine, historically family-style. “Due to regional COVID-19 regulations,” says Rachid Lahik, regional culinary director for CulinArt, “we had to create an entirely new serving system for this unit.”
Instead of passing bowls and ladles, Scouts move through one of two serving stations where staff dish up the sort of “hospitality that CulinArt is known for,” Lahik notes. This includes French toast or Denver scrambled eggs for breakfast; chicken Teriyaki or beef chili for lunch; and, say, roast beef and mashed potatoes or barbeque chicken for dinner—not to mention, of course, s’mores or pretzels and string cheese for evening snacks.
This is the first time Lahik, who joined CulinArt in 2019, has run a summer camp. “Having the Girls Scouts of San Diego as a partner has been a great experience,” he says. “We have been focused on food quality and safety. Our three-week menu is constantly evolving based on feedback from the Program Director and campers. So far this summer, this unit has been successful and receiving great feedback. We have also been able to connect with Chefs to End Hunger to reallocate all leftover food to communities in need. I am happy to have been able to connect the Girl Scouts with this great cause.”
Lahik adds that by the end of the Camp season, he and the team at Camp Winacka will have served more than 18,000 meals. Another CulinArt camp manager familiar with that kind of volume this summer is Heather Galli, who is the sole CulinArt associate at South Mountain YMCA Camps in Reinholds, Pa., about 90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia.
For 210 campers and staff, Galli—with help from a cook, utility, and three salad/prep workers employed by the camp—produces three meals a day plus snacks six days a week. The list of special meal options is long: “vegan, vegetarian, no dairy, no soy, no pork/beef, no nuts of any kind, no honey, no strawberries,” she explains.
Galli performs all chef and manager responsibilities which, because of the meal period structure, equates to typical 10-hour day. “Heather preps out every meal for the entire week for the team to finish,” says District Manager Joe Ginder. “She has put in a lot of time to make this successful and train the existing staff to meet our standards.”
This includes all summer holidays, starting from the camp’s opening on Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. South Mountain attracts both youth organizations who hold their camps there as well as families and individuals taking camp vacations. Despite a rainy opening weekend, “Heather got tremendous feedback from guests on the quality of food she brought to their annual vacation destination,” Ginder notes, adding, “we receive positive feedback every week on meal options not only for campers but the large YMCA staff that runs the mountain.”
Other summer camps where CulinArt staff are raising the culinary bar include:
- George School, Newtown, Pa., where lunch is provided to 240 day and equestrian campers and 75 staff daily, according to Tony Velez, dir. of dining services. CulinArt offers one hot option daily (with a vegetarian alternative) along with sandwiches, salads, fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks and snacks. As at Camp Winacka, two service points keep the kids socially distanced.
- Germantown Friends School, Philadelphia, which hosts 465 campers over five weeks in an urban setting. With Food Service Manager Jessica Borkosky’s oversight, CulinArt serves two meals a day to 75 of those campers, including such popular items as burgers (and Beyond Burgers), pizza, fried chicken, salads, and turkey-and-cheese roll-ups.