This Food Boot Camp Is Teaching Urban Teenagers How to Skin Rabbits
All photos courtesy Cassia Kidron.


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This Food Boot Camp Is Teaching Urban Teenagers How to Skin Rabbits

Root Camp is a non-profit enterprise that runs cookery courses for teenagers on farms in Devon and Wales. “Cutting up the rabbit helped me get over my fear of blood,” remembers Zenaida, a recent participant.

You probably didn't know your arse from your elbow in the kitchen when you were a teenager. And if you're a parent, chances are your adolescent offspring can just about boil pasta to an edible consistency and mix it with tomato sauce from a jar.

It was this teen-wide culinary ineptitude that inspired (or rather panicked) former photographer, musician, and now mother-of-three Cassia Kidron to create Root Camp, a non-profit social enterprise that runs cookery courses for teenagers and young adults.


Root Camp participants. All photos courtesy Cassia Kidron.

"I knew how to kind of make lasagna. I made pasta and fries like any school student but that was about it," admits 18-year-old Zenaida, a Root Camp graduate and now keen cook.

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With week-long residential courses at farms in Wales and Devon, Root Camp allows teens to become fully immersed in nature and learn not only how to cook, but where their ingredients come from. They learn how to plant seedlings, fish, forage, bake bread, and tackle slow cooking.

"It was a fear that my own children were unequipped for adult life in terms of food and diet and that I had, in trying to keep them on the academic path, failed to impart any of the skills and passion that I had for food," says Kidron of the thinking behind Root Camp. "The vision is to try and change the culture of food among young people all around the UK."


After five years of holding cookery courses in rural locations, Root Camp is expanding to the capital and launches its first "Urban Root Camp," a cookery skills day at London's Stepney City Farm in October.

"London is a burgeoning network of growers. There are little patches of land all over the place where people are growing crops," says Kidron. "It's about bringing together the London scene and saying to kids that this isn't just in the countryside, it is right around the corner from you and you can get involved just by growing something on a window sill. That is very empowering."


As well as providing young people with the skills to grow their own ingredients, Root Camp is keen for its attendees to understand how to work with them. Chef Sylvain Jamois, who had a stint Exmouth Market restaurant Moro and met Kidron during his time at Riverford Organic Farm heads up the cooking curricula for the camps.


"I try to be as informative as possible but really informal so it doesn't feel like a school lesson," he explains. "I put a big emphasis on going away from the recipes so the kids can improvise. It's really important to empower them to make their own decisions. If they have the confidence to change and modify recipes they can use what they have and what is seasonal."

These seasonal dishes include a summer ratatouille that uses courgettes picked by the campers, chard (again, hand-picked) and cheese tarts, and homemade pad thai.

But Root Camp isn't an all-frills-attached mini break for the clotted cream (thick, white, and rich) of London's adolescence. At a recent camp, teens were taught to prepare rabbit nicoise and rabbit paella, made with rabbits shot on the farm hosting them. They were tasked with skinning, gutting, and portioning the animal before Jamois had them gently poaching the meat in olive oil.


"Cutting up the rabbit helped me get over my fear of blood," remembers Zenaida. "That and helping a bee keeper made me realise those kinds of things just aren't a big deal"


Root Camp also offers at least 25 percent of its places on a sponsored basis to young people deemed to benefit from the experience by schools, charities, and foster agencies.

"I am tenaciously keen on bursting the social bubble," says Kidron. "I want the kids all in the same tent, living and breathing with people they wouldn't normally meet."


The change exhibited by teenagers involved in the week-long Root Camp courses can be stark. Samson Ayoade was 18 when he first went to Root Camp on a sponsored place.

"I knew nothing about food and was the only one from my college," he says, now 19. "I've been twice to Root Camp and am now working as a chef at the Dorchester in London."

Jamois remembers another London-born student who had little experience with food—or indeed the outdoors—before taking part in a Root Camp course.


"[She] turned up with her hair straighteners and wouldn't go to the beach because she hated the feeling of having sand in her toes," he says. "She was always screaming at insects. By the end of the course she went swimming in the sea in her clothes and didn't care about keeping her hair perfect anymore. She was a real inner city girl who was completely liberated by the experience."

She isn't the only Root Camper to have benefited from a week in the wild. In a survey of former participants, Root Camp found that 92 percent of students said the experience had changed their eating habits for the better and over 80 percent said it had improved their confidence. Everyone surveyed was still cooking.


Kidron also shows me an email from one enthused parent days after her son returned from the course: He came back so enthused about every aspect. I don't think I've ever seen him so wholeheartedly ( teenager..??!!)) excited. [sic]

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This enthusiasm is a far cry from the results of a recent Journal of Public Health study into the food behaviours of a group of 16 to 20-year-olds, many of whom considered cheese on toast a "home-cooked meal" and described their cooking methods as "jar-based."


"The fact that the food we produced from a basic, non-professional kitchen was so great," says Ayoade of his Root Camp experience. "And it's that the quality of the produce was so high—organic and local. But really the most special thing was just the group was together on one table united by food."

Sold. Pack your bags, buy yourself a fake ID that says you're still in your teens—we're going to skin rabbits and pick chard with a bunch of teenagers in Wales.