Second helping: Former Cook Like a Chef participant returns as guest speaker

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Second helping: Former Cook Like a Chef participant returns as guest speaker

When Derek Polay was a young boy he would search his neighborhood looking for wild chives, wild garlic and just about anything he could find to experiment with in recipes. According to his mother, Kristin Cox, Derek was always a foodie and always cooking for his family. But it wasn’t until he, as a 10-year-old, had a serendipitous meeting with Penn State’s Cook Like a Chef camp director, Anne Quinn Corr, that he realized how he could turn his passion for cooking into a legitimate career.  

“I was at the local grocery store with my mother and I saw this woman who had a lot of food, so I walked up to her and asked her what she did with all that food. She told me she was buying it for the (Penn State) kids’ cooking camp,” as he recalled the first time he met Corr in 2007.

The following summer, he was one of 32 children who attended the week-long cooking camp offered by Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, and Department of Nutritional Sciences. He was able to attend because of a (then newly created) scholarship funded by Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Tracks (TRACKS), a statewide program that provides nutrition assistance education to low-income Pennsylvanians. Since its inception, more than 100 scholarships have been awarded to children like Derek enabling them to attend the Cook Like a Chef camp.

“The camp goes beyond teaching basic cooking techniques. Corr incorporates healthy cooking skills, local food benefits and food industry careers. It is her love of food and the food industry that shines through to the kids. It helped me to realize how I could make a career doing what I love,” said Polay, who recently graduated from the State College Area School District and who will be attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., on scholarship in October.

Corr has remained in touch with Derek over the years. “Even at his young age, there was something special about his zest for cooking,” said Coor. “I knew right away that this kid was going places.”

As a special feature at this summer’s camp, Corr invited Polay back as a guest speaker. He demonstrated to the 11- to 13-year-old participants how to properly chop vegetables for minestrone soup and showed them how to prepare fruits for a professional looking display.

When asked about his future, Polay said he hopes to someday work at a New York City restaurant and be on television. He also wants to come back to the Cook Like a Chef camp to show other "foodie kids" how they, too, can turn their love of food into a career.

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