The Painted Turtle, a Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (founded by Paul Newman), is a special place for children with life-threatening diseases. Opened in 2004 in Lake Hughes, California, the camp’s mission is to inspire these children to reach beyond illness to become their greater selves, by allowing them to have an authentic camp experience while supporting their medical needs.

I spent that first summer season as the executive chef, creating the daily meal program and serving healthy, organic, and great-tasting dishes that children love and expect to eat in a camp setting. Working with the camp’s medical director, Wendy Cook, I lowered the fats and sugars of traditional favorites and created tempting menus for children who required special diets. All this was done with organic ingredients.

I am proud that the Painted Turtle is probably the only camp in the world that served organic, homemade cream puffs. Also popular were organic spaghetti, hot dogs with oven fries, garlic broccoli, chili and corn bread, watermelon, and the weekly banana-split bar. It was the largest amount of food I have ever cooked, day after day. I loved the chance to bring comforting organic food to these children who wanted so much to be healthy. Since that inaugural summer, the Painted Turtle has established a menu with healthy culinary standards that will function for many years. To learn more, visit

—Donna Prizgintas