We’re pretty lucky to be deeply in the thick of summer, as there’s no way local culinary instructor Jason McCammon would be able to do a demo during the school year. As the Culinary Arts instructor at Clackamas High School, a postion he has held for 6 years now, McCammon is a bit of an overachiever. Not only does he teach high school students (a saintly task in itself, if you ask me), his classroom activities often involve putting knives in the hands of teenagers and letting them actually use them. A terrifying prospect for most, but it’s a clearly a job that McCammon was born to do. (Especially if you consider his home-steader-ish upbringing.)
The main focus of his work, as he sees it, is to teach his kids about something he calls “eating clean” — mostly whole grains, vegetables and fruit. While he’s not a vegetarian, he does prefer to eat meat in small amounts, as more of a seasoning than as the focus of a meal, and he encourages his students to use cooking as a way to clean up their diet. One of his most successful activities involves simply teaching the kids to read nutrition labels : “I pull up bunch of corporate food websites like Taco Bell or Burger King. Then, I ask the students which one is their favorite, and what they usually order. Then I show them how to do a nutritional analysis of their meal. I take an electronic scale and we weigh out the grams of sugar, fat and salt & give them a visual using actual fat (butter), sugar and salt. It’s pretty disgusting, and they’re usually really shocked. I’ve had kids where it has completely changed their lifestyle.”
Outside the classroom, McCammon sits on the Oregon State board of SkillsUSA, a national organization that hosts competitions for high school students in Culinary Arts and other trades. Once a week, he hosts an after school culinary club for students who are interested in going further with culinary arts and pursuing competition. He spends 3 to 4 hours with these kids, coaching and advising them. This year, he was proud to bring a student to nationals – a graduating senior who began with him as a 70 lb-0verweight freshman and will be heading off to Oregon Culinary Institute in the fall — not just 70lbs lighter and a devoted ‘clean eater’, but also as an aspiring chef.
McCammon’s humility and pure love of food is inspiring and contagious. Simply by sharing his passion, it is abundantly clear that he is truly changing our food culture, one kid at a time. “I always tell my kids that Culinary Arts is an art, our medium is food, so when we put it on a plate we want it to be artful and beautiful, to grab attention with color and dimensions. Plating is essential — you’re already thinking it’ll be great if it looks lovely. It’s really an art, even at home, plating for my family, I always try to make it look beautiful. Its important to take care of the ingredients that are given to you. You’ve worked hard to purchase it, and farmers worked hard to grow it. You would do them and yourself a disservice if you were to mistreat these products. Food is just great stuff. I love it.”
And, as for what we can look forward to at the Market this Sunday? “I’ll probably do 3 courses, like I did last year. The market is my black box. I just ask all of the vendors what they’d like to feature, and that way I can feature the things that the farmers want me to use. Probably a composed salad, maybe something from the meat vendor. I’ll probably bring the basics — oil, salt & pepper, flour — and the rest will come from the market. Almost 100% of it, I hope.”
Bring your appetite, and prepare to get schooled!