For a first-time parent with no childhood memories of sleep-away camps with cabins in the woods, the notion of sports, cooking and nature camps is a revelation. They are a lifesaver for working parents, and, unsurprisingly, Marin County has a number of them to choose from. Even before I sent my child off to experience a week at Steve & Kate’s, the camp’s reputation for items like sweet and savory crepes, organic ice cream and sushi was renowned.
Since 1980, Steve and Kate Susskind have been offering their special brand of camp experience, geared toward pre-K through 7th graders. Over the past three decades, the Mill Valley-based camp has expanded to 48 sites in 10 states and serves 28,000 kids a year. The self-directed philosophy of the camp works for some kids, and not so well for others. But the food appeals to all.
In an effort to continue to raise the camp’s culinary bar, in August of 2015, the founders hired chef Ryan Smith as their in-house chef and food program designer. The 32-year-old California Culinary Academy graduate, who hails from San Jose and has spent much of his career cooking in South Bay kitchens, is in charge of developing recipes that will be prepared for thousands of summer campers across the country.
“My goal is to make every single item a well-balanced meal,” says Smith, who was so inspired by the opportunity at Steve & Kate’s that he was lured away from a corporate chef job with the food service management group Bon Appétit. “The opportunity to feed kids and give them insight to where their food comes from was too compelling to pass up.”
Before the camps get into full swing, Smith tested out his new recipes on a group of spring day campers in Berkeley. Once results are in, and feedback incorporated, Smith has the task of working with others to create his recipes in sizeable volume, and making sure that every camp can execute and deliver his menus.
Smith is mindful of serving as much organic and clean-label food as possible, and he’s incorporating and substituting ingredients to provide healthier, more nutrient-dense meals. His Turkey Sub includes kale and quinoa, and can be made gluten-free, while his recipe for Mom’s Secret Weapon Pasta Sauce (included here) is packed with fresh vegetables. Smith is also mindful to keep many dishes familiar, but he might swap out mayonnaise for a puréed chickpea hummus or a roasted red pepper spread. He calls it “stealth nutrition.”
Mom’s Secret Weapon Pasta Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings
1 small head of cauliflower (about 8 oz)
1 small head of broccoli (about 4 oz)
1 small zucchini (about 4 oz)
2 large carrots, peeled (about 8 oz)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small leek, chopped (about 4 oz)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped (about 6 oz)
28 oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a food processor, grater or knife, finely chop cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini and carrots. Keep vegetables separate. Set aside.
Place a large saucepot over medium heat. Add olive oil and leeks, and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Once the leeks become translucent, add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Add the bell pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables to the leek and pepper mixture, stirring frequently. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Add canned, diced tomatoes and cover. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes. When the vegetables become tender, use a handheld blender to purée mixture, or transfer in small batches to a blender. If using a blender, be careful not to fill more than halfway at a time. When the mixture yields a well-blended sauce, season with salt and pepper. Serve over your favorite pasta, polenta or any other dish that you like.