Building on the popularity of food competitions and cooking shows on TV, chef Bill Irish is offering a new experience this summer for kids ages 11 to 16 with his Kulinary Kids cooking camp.

Irish, who is based in Kittery, is offering the camp twice this summer at The Maine Table in South Portland. The goal is to give the participants a chance to be creative with food and to be hands-on.

Themes for each of the cooking sessions range from Indian and northern Italian cuisine to comfort food and baking. In addition, participants will also have the opportunity to enjoy a sit-down lunch each session of camp and receive recipe packets to take home.

Colby Wise, 12, of Saco, is eagerly looking forward to taking part in Kulinary Kids, according to his mother, Wendy Wise. Colby has already taken three cooking classes with Irish, which included Indian cuisine, working with seafood and making tapas, she said.

“We do a lot of cooking at home,” Wise said, “and Colby really wanted to take some cooking class.” Until she heard about Irish, Wise said it was difficult finding a cooking class that was hands-on and that would enroll a minor.

She said her son “has really great knife skills and a good palate” and what’s great about working with Irish is that “Bill doesn’t talk down to Colby or simplify things. He really treats him like a colleague.”

It may be too soon for Colby to choose a career path, his mother said, but he has expressed interest in becoming a chef, or maybe a lawyer.

In addition to giving participants in the Kulinary Kids camp the opportunity to get creative with food, there will also be a “Chopped” component, “where participants use the skills accumulated over the course of the camp to race against the clock and create something delicious with mystery ingredients,” Irish said.

When asked why they created Kulinary Kids, Irish’s business partner Wendy Faulkingham said, “We just really thought it would be a fun class for kiddos to learn some new cuisines and expand their palates. It seems with TV shows on food channels there is a strong interest (in food and cooking among) today’s youth.”

Greg Dugal, president and chief executive officer for the Maine Restaurant Association, said, “I think (Kulinary Kids) is an amazing idea, and it would be wonderful to get young people interested in culinary arts.”

That’s especially important because there’s a shortage of line cooks and enrollment is down in some of the culinary programs in the state, Dugal said, “so any attempt at bridging that gap would have my support.”

Irish said another impetus for Kulinary Kids was his love of teaching. His goals for Kulinary Kids are for the participants to “learn, taste and develop the confidence to cook,” he said.

What he most enjoys about being a chef himself is “the creative aspect of cooking. I had the good fortune of learning from others and I would like to” pass that on to the next generation.

Irish was actually chosen to appear on “Chopped,” although the episode he taped was ultimately rejected by the producers and never aired. And while it was nothing like he expected, it was his experience on the show that inspired him to add a competion segment to the Kulinary Kids camp.

When he was on “Chopped” the mystery ingredients provided to the competing chefs were jelly beans, chicken and tortillas, Irish said.

Kulinary Kids participants don’t need any prior cooking experience, although a true interest in food and cooking is a must, he said.

“They will have a fun, weeklong camp, where each day will be focused on a new menu,” he said. “The students will create the menu and enjoy their meals. At the end of the camp we will hold a ‘Chopped’ (event) for the students to use the tools they have learned along the way.”

Faulkingham called Irish “an amazing teacher” and said, “he explains techniques so that everyone can understand and will want to go home and give it a try. I have learned a great deal from him myself. Having a sense of confidence in the kitchen allows anyone to pick up a recipe and not be intimidated.”

And while Irish and Faulkingham are not quite sure how the experiment that is Kulinary Kids will work out, she said, “it’s going to be a ton of fun. I can’t wait to see them all in their Kulinary Kids aprons.”

Faulkingham added, “Bill is very lively and entertaining. The cooking camps will be a hoot. Students will gain a wealth of knowledge and leave with a smile on their faces.”

Overall, she said, “Bill and I hope the kids will have a great time and also have the confidence to use the skills they learn to try new recipes and get involved in the kitchen with their families.”

A closer look

To register for the new Kulinary Kids cooking camp being offered by local chef Bill Irish at The Maine Table this summer, see Camps are scheduled for the weeks of July 25 and Aug, 22, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and tuition is $250 per person.

Kittery-based chef Bill Irish, left, cooks with Colby Wise, 12, of Saco. This summer Irish will be offering a new experience for kids 11-16 – the Kulinary Kids cooking camp at The Maine Table in South Portland.

Chef Bill Irish, center, cooks with Amy Ouellette and her daughter, Laura, during a recent tapas class.

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