By Jennifer Iscol

While we are hunkered down during the pandemic, two teens from the San Francisco Peninsula are opening up carefully curated global vistas for kids with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Caroline Pecore and Paloma Raffle led gluten-free virtual cooking camps and classes last summer, and they were so popular that the two high school sophomores are considering more.

Each day of class features recipes from a different country and stories with a slideshow about how the kids in that country live and eat, drawing on travel Paloma has done with her family to 25 countries. The class participants cook, eat, learn, make new friends, imagine their future travel and develop skills for independence. The teens offered scholarships to cover the cost of the class, used by a couple of participants, and they also donated 10% of proceeds to our foundation, raising several hundred dollars.

Paloma had experience running camps for kids ages five to seven in her backyard for two previous summers. This year, the virtual format allowed her and her friend Caroline to welcome class participants from seven states and Canada to their kitchens. They made it gluten-free because Caroline has celiac disease, as does Paloma’s grandmother. Caroline documented her diagnosis in a memoir essay and included a presentation on it in the class. The class participants chatted about what was happening in their own geographical area last summer, bonded easily over their shared gluten-free experiences, and delved deep into travel subjects.

The teens ran the classes from their separate homes for Covid-19 safety and each led one of the Zoom breakout rooms, which were organized for ages 7-11 and 11-16. The full class (20-30 kids for each session) also joined together at the beginning and end of each day. Caroline and Paloma observed that the younger the kids, the more their parents helped in the background, but it was the kids themselves who interacted with the class.

My own experience meeting and collaborating (virtually) with Caroline and Paloma on the fundraiser aspect is that they are cheery, quick to laugh, and undertook tasks and responded to suggestions with lightning speed and serious organization. I suggested they make a website and the next day it was done. Therefore, I was not surprised to learn that they had used Instacart to estimate and reduce the cost of the groceries needed for class participation; made substitutions for food allergies; created ice breaker activities to warm up the class; carefully timed the different dishes to finish at the same time; and offered daily kitchen tips (for example, clean up as you go).

The girls received lots of positive feedback after the camp and classes. Some of the parents observed their children were more open to trying new things. Caroline and Paloma believe that making the food themselves is part of what opens kids up to this.

Our foundation is made up entirely of volunteers and what we get done in any given year is in part a reflection of who jumps in to volunteer, collaborate, fundraise or just bounce suggestions our way. It was great fun to work with these two.

Check out Caroline and Paloma’s website or send them a note to see when they will offer classes again.

PHOTOS: All photos by Caroline Pecore and Paloma Raffle
From top left clockwise:
Kenya: traditional Kenyan bean stew, polenta and banana bread
Paloma Raffle (L) and Caroline Pecore (R) (pre-pandemic)
Mexico: horchata, churros and tacos
Israel: gluten-free pita bread, hummus, Israeli salad and falafel
Japan: sesame soba noodles, cucumber salad and mango sticky rice
South America: Brazilian salad, fried bananas and pupusas
Italy: gluten-free pasta