Brightwater Chef to Bring Culinary Arts to Kids: NorthWest Arkansas Community College

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Brightwater Chef to Bring Culinary Arts to Kids

brightwater chef erin

At this summer’s Kid’s College program at NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC), Brightwater Chef Erin Szopiak will be guiding kids on a food journey that will consist of making a variety of cuisines while embracing their cultural and social origins. Children will explore African, Asian, Central and South American, as well as North American foods, and learn cooking techniques to use in their own kitchens. By the end of the four-day courses, students will come away understanding the connection between food, nutrition, health and community.  

“I’m really excited to delve into those recipes with the kids,” said Erin. “It’s so fun to look at the techniques and the flavors each culture has developed. There are similarities among the different cultures but they use different ingredients, which is fascinating. I’m excited about exploring each cuisine individually but also discovering what connects them.”

NWACC’s Kid’s College occurs every summer, throughout the month of June for children ages nine through 16 years old. Classes range from global cuisine, computer coding and robotics to graphic design, novel writing, and more. Students experience the excitement of being on a college campus while studying subjects that may ignite lifelong interests.

Each four-day culinary session will cover one of the world cuisines, and kids will learn how to handle a chef’s knife safely, and practice basic chopping and cutting techniques, as well as cooking methods for grains and meats. Students will also learn farm-to-table philosophy and the importance of using local, healthy ingredients when cooking.

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“My main goal is for kids to know how fun cooking can be when working with your classmates or teammates, and you get to make something that is creative and delicious!” Erin said. “And if a child has a food allergy, we’ll definitely work around that and make it work. We’ll find a creative solution.” 

As a chef and instructor at Brightwater, exploring the world of food is nothing new for Erin. The center offers a wholistic and innovative culinary learning experience that not only offers workforce readiness in the expanding hospitality sector, but allows students and individuals to explore the larger food world in theory and practice.

“Brightwater differentiates itself from the other culinary schools by looking at the bigger system, so food systems in general,” Erin explained. “When coming out of Brightwater, we hope that our students are well rounded and understand the system, whether they want to grow their own vegetables or create their own jams and jellies and sell those, or be entrepreneurs.

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In her free time, Erin has been busy researching and practicing kid-friendly recipes for Kid’s College. The following is a gluten free Brazilian cheese bread recipe she was happy to share.


Brazilian Cheese Balls (Pao de Queijo) Recipe


  • 1 1/4 cups tapioca flour
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 TB olive oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ an egg or about 1 oz of egg that has been beaten
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • ¼ mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Place the tapioca flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Combine milk, oil, salt and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil while whisking.

Remove from heat and pour over tapioca flour in mixing bowl. Begin to mix, first starting on low, then gradually increasing the speed to high as the batter begins to thicken and turn smooth. (The batter will look almost like glue.) While still beating, add egg, and beat until incorporated. Then add cheeses, a small handful at a time, beating, until incorporated. The mixture will be sticky and slightly stiff.

Use a small ice cream scoop or heaping tablespoons and scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least one inch between them. Moisten the palm of your hand with water and pat each scoop into a slightly rounded mound. (Alternatively, you may portion the dough into a small sized muffin tin and bake.)

Bake until they become puffed up, golden on top, deeply golden on the bottom and feel relatively light when picked up and dropped on the baking sheet, rotating about halfway through baking. Bake for a total of 20 to 24 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, and eat warm or at room temperature.

*Recipe modified from