Avram’s Blog: Food at Camp
Avram Pachter, Head Chef
Here at Ramah in the Rockies we take our food very seriously. Whether the various ingredients come to us via farm to table or farm to store to table, we strive to “lift the veil” on everything we do in the kitchen so our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) can be more informed in making their future food decisions.
For us this means starting with as much local and organic fare as possible while also staying within budget. Often there are questions about why some things we serve are organic, but others that could be are not. The simple answer is that the prices of organic foods sometimes mean that we are unable to serve as much as we would like. But our chalutzim do not stop there and want to know more. We teach about the differences between organic and semi-organic, how these choices help our planet, and why they may impact our final decision on what to have available on our camp menus.
We serve a predominately vegetarian diet instead of one filled with large quantities of animal protein which lets us introduce alternative protein sources such as quinoa and tofu (complete proteins), or lentils and seitan (incomplete proteins). When meat or fish is on the menu, our choices include sustainable tilapia direct from Quixotic Farming in Southern Colorado. In addition to providing a low cost option for increased variety in our meals, sourcing our fish from Quixotic supports their program teaching job skills to assist the rehabilitation of prison inmates. In this way our kitchen enables our camp community to perform the highest level of tzedakah as outlined by Maimonides – strengthening another’s hand until that person is no longer dependent upon others.
“Lifting the veil” does not stop here. It continues with understanding how the kitchen runs. Every Friday afternoon we have some of our chalutzim helping with the Shabbat dinner preparations – rolling and braiding challah, setting the tables, cleaning the ohel ochel (dining tent). Our oldest edah is invited to volunteer for shtifat kaylim (dish pit), and learn first-hand how much work goes into cleaning all the dishes, utensils, and cooking equipment for a camp meal. Everyone learns how to work together quickly and efficiently. Then, our campers are guided on a tour of the kitchen, to see where things are stored and why it’s important that everything is put away in its proper place. Sometimes there are special surprises from the Head Chef!
And what would camp be without peulot (activities) involving food? One of the favorites is Iron Chef. The chalutzim are divided into groups to compete in creating the best-tasting and best-looking dish from a selection of random ingredients. Teamwork, complementing flavors, and time management are the take-away lessons. A big bonus was our kitchen staff including one of the winning creations as a new addition to the lunch menu offerings for everyone to enjoy.
Through all these and other activities, our camp community appreciates the difficult choices and hard work necessary to provide an interesting and nutritious menu each day.