Yesterday, I enjoyed, as ever, what is probably my favorite few hours of camp every summer. Yesterday was the Chef’s Cap competition. For those of you new to camp, Chef’s Cap is our outdoor cooking competition. Basically, it is the culminating event for some of the skills that the boys have been working on all summer. Whether down at CNOC (Camp Nebagamon Outdoor Center), out on trail, or during cabin cookouts, every boy here at camp has been working on their skills of cooking over an open fire.
Chef’s Cap is a cabin event. While each cabin selects two people to be their chefs, the entire cabin is involved in setting up the site, chopping the wood, creating a sign for the chef, and cleaning up at the end. You would not believe the amount of pride the boys have in this event. They work really hard to create the best sites possible and come up with some unbelievably clever ideas. Whether it is engineering a makeshift table from their cookout box, creating a lovely rock design around their fire pit, or employing swim goggles to help keep the smoke out of their eyes, the kids come up with some amazing stuff.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of every summer is right after all 25 of those fires have been lit. I love walking around the area and seeing these kids working so diligently and proficiently, with their 25 fires blazing. It is another one of those times when I look at what is happening and just marvel at it. Here we have a bunch of kids who are able to build a fire, prepare food, and then cook it…without any adult assistance. (Don’t worry. There is adult supervision!) And I’m not talking about just one dish. Our youngest, the Swampers, created a relish tray with dip for an appetizer, tin foil packet hamburgers as an entree, toasted garlic bread as a side dish, and s’mores for dessert. Our Loggers made a relish tray with dip, barbequed steak fries, beef shish kabobs, and smoritos (a smore in a tortilla with marshmallow, chocolate, and berries….AMAZING!). Our Axeman crew made guacamole with chips, garlic bread, pesto carbonara, and a peach cobbler. And our Lumberjack teams cooked in an “Iron Chef” competition against two of our counselor “iron chefs.” Creativity was encouraged!
Now, I am quite certain that the majority of parents that send their kids here are shocked enough to just hear that their son is able to make his own bed. But seriously, how many of you would ever believe your son could cook an entire meal outdoors over an open fire…..how many of you would even let them get within ten feet of an open fire!?!
It is a night of great sights, great smells, great tastes (well….almost always great tastes), and an enormous sense of PRIDE for the participants. With this event, like so many here at Nebagamon, the joy is in participation. Winning is not the sole purpose. Certainly the cabins that will be announced as the winners will be ecstatic about it, but so will those other cabins that just had fun doing it.
The other really nice part about last night was that the entire camp turned out for the event. Certainly there were other things being offered at the time, and other activities for those that wished to do other things, but the reality was that everyone wanted to be a part of this event. As ever, everyone was engaged in their own kind of way. Some of the boys were rooting on their cabin’s representatives with nothing but encouragement. Some of the boys were full of suggestions, both tactfully worded ones and urgent commands for change! Some of the boys were just down there…well…just to be down there. These boys wandered from site to site to see what was going on, or just to chat with the others hanging around.
I was really struck last night by the sense of community around here right now. We are in an absolute sweet spot and the community is one of contentment and cohesion. Cabin mates are at ease with each other. Those things that were frustrating each other a week ago are now just those quirky things that make everyone who they are. Older boys and younger boys interact with each other as comfortably as close siblings would. Someone commented to me last night about how calm things seem….almost too quiet. (He hadn’t been in the Rec Hall at lunch!!!) But upon further examination, we both quickly noted that, while calm, there was complete engagement down at the event. Everyone was clearly feeling at home.
All is well in the North Woods…