When Toni Zlaket was in her early 20s, her father told her she'd never find a husband because she couldn't cook.
Now 48, the wife and mother of three has done more than just teach herself how to cook: These days she teaches others, too.
Zlaket founded Yummy: A Cooking Camp for Kids in 2010 as a way to provide Tucson elementary and middle school students an opportunity to do something fun during their summer breaks. After experiencing success with a four-week program at Castlehill Country Day School, she expanded the business to a year-round program.
This summer she's teaching two two-week sessions at St. Gregory College Preparatory School, 3231 N. Craycroft Road, as part of its Minds Alive! summer camp.
"I want them to learn to cook, but I more want them to learn about food and to be more open to trying things," Zlaket said. "Kids are more willing to eat something they participated in making."
During the first week of the first session, which ran June 3 through Friday, Zlaket taught students how to make ranch dressing, frozen fruit pops and spinach dip, among other snack foods. During the second week, she focused on different countries, teaching her students how to make Greek pasta salad, homemade tortillas and Italian calzones.
The second session started Monday and runs through June 28.
In her classes, she teaches only recipes that are easy to duplicate and that use fresh and easy-to-find ingredients. After one week in the first session, eight of her 18 students raised their hands to tell her that they went home and made food for their families.
"My favorite thing is always eating the food 'cause it tastes really good," said 11-year-old camper Lucia Budd. "I also like cooking for my dad because he always asks what I make and looks forward to eating it."
While Zlaket has no professional cooking experience, she has worked as a teacher for nine years. She finds recipes from cookbooks or online, making sure to cite them so her students can look them up and find similar recipes.
"My strength is working with kids and teaching," she said. "We bring in recipes from people like Ina Garten and put them into our model of teaching and, luckily for us, it worked."
Zlaket hopes she is able to provide her students with something they may not experience at home.
"As parents, we don't sit down and cook with our kids," Zlaket said. "We just sit down at the table and maybe eat. Cooking and passing that experience along is a really big part of it for us."
Zlaket eventually hopes to make Yummy a full-time job with a permanent storefront, but she realizes that getting to that point is a process.
In the meantime, she said, "I hope that the kids are inspired to cook. If we are able to help just a little bit and show how easy cooking can be, then I think we did what we wanted to do."
Find out more
For more information about Yummy: A Cooking Camp for Kids, call Toni Zlaket at 331-8911.
Justin Sayers is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at 573-4117 or firstname.lastname@example.org