Family cooks at Camp Casey

Family cooks at Camp Casey

Jackie Huerta wants guests at Camp Casey Conference Center to feel like they’re going to their aunt’s house for dinner.

“It’s like a family,” said Huerta, who prepares delectable meals from Camp Casey’s Mess Hall A, which is located on the south end of the grounds.

Huerta, whose grandfather was born in Italy and came to the United States via Ellis Island before settling in Northern California, uses her heritage to inspire her culinary creations.

“For us Italians, food is like the core of everything in life,” Huerta said. She cooks such classics as lasagna, baked ziti, lemon rosemary garlic chicken, Italian macaroni and cheese, frittata, and cinnamon rolls. These delectable dishes are served buffet style for the church groups, nonprofit organizations, athletic teams, and youth groups that visit Camp Casey.

Huerta has lived on Whidbey Island off and on for 40 years. She first moved to Whidbey in 1982 when her husband, Michael, was stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Her current stay on Whidbey has been nine years.

She enjoys cooking for athletic teams and youth groups that come through the camp during the year.

“I love the different personalities that come through the door. I love to feed them,” Huerta said. Being just feet away from the water and the deer that wander the grounds, she also relishes the setting where she serves Camp Casey’s guests.

When a youth group from Seattle Church of Christ visited in mid-January, the kids loved Huerta’s presence.

“She was the absolute sweetest. The kids just adored her,” Leader Elise Sanderson said.

Huerta also has a catering business and a small Italian deli located in nearby Oak Harbor. The business, Zanini’s Catering and Deli, is named after her mother’s maiden name.

When an athletic group is scheduled to visit, Huerta said she tries to cater the menu to meet their needs. “I just try to investigate like that, and we go from there.”

She also meets dietary accommodations including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets, as well as food allergies.

Huerta started cooking at Camp Casey in November 2019, just before the worldwide lockdown due to COVID-19. She said she didn’t know back then if the lockdown was going to last a couple of weeks or longer.

She recalled that everything became a bit of a ghost town and life stopped as she knew it.

“We’re just happy to be working again,” Huerta said of the easing of social-distancing restrictions.

Camp Casey Conference Center is the perfect location for an inspiring group getaway to Whidbey Island, Washington. Ideal for sports camps, church groups, outdoor education camps, summer camps, and other nonprofit endeavors, Camp Casey provides overnight accommodations and food service for groups large and small. Send us an email today to get the conversation started on rates, dates, and your next adventure at