Michael Schultz rubbed a gloved hand over the surface of a cantaloupe.
The 13-year-old slid a knife around the edge, slicing away the bumpy remains of any skin.
"I'm interested in making things," Schultz said. "Cooking is sort of like art."
Schultz donned an apron and a tall white hat for the Kids Culinary Academy last week, held in the kitchen at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Cartwright Center.
The two-day class starts with the basics. Young cooks learn the importance of safety and sanitation in the kitchen. After a primer in the importance of nutrition, the group of sixth- to eighth-graders start in on a pile of fruit, slicing watermelons and skinning kiwis. Kids prepare warm meals the second day, and the dishes are served to parents.
The course, a youth program through UW-L Continuing Education and Extension, offers a chance to learn food preparation and healthy eating habits - and have some fun, said Caitlyn Kamrath, a spokeswoman for UW-L Dining Services.
"We have all the right people and utensils here that we need to teach," Kamrath said, standing in the university dining hall.
Becca Schilling's favorite meal is her mom's spaghetti, and the 11-year-old wants to learn how to prepare pasta.
"I sometimes help my mom and my grandma," she said.
Robb Hanson, a chef for the university's dining service, moved around the kitchen, offering guidance as the children cut, skinned and scooped fruit.
Etiquette, terminology and sanitation are all very important for any future cook, but one of the best ways to succeed in the kitchen is to care about the food, Hanson said.
"Our idea is just to get the next generation cooking," Hanson said. "Families don't sit down for meals anymore, and we kind of need to bring that back."