Even if they feel their product is pristine, flavor pairings innovative, and technique flawless, there is a critic who humbles the most confident chefs in the city – that tiny little mouth at home. Babble talked to five talented chefs who are also parents. They’ve trained under the likes of Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio, and run their own kitchens – but still these parents face the same dilemma we all do: what to make the kid for dinner? Here are some of their kids’ quirks, likes and dislikes, plus their favorite recipes to try on your own mini tasting panel. – Phil Gutensohn
Chef: Jeff Butler
Kids: Owen, 4; and Remy, 1
Jeff Butler is a chef-instructor at The French Culinary Institute. He trained in the kitchens of Babbo, Daniel, and Lupa, and was chef de cuisine at Dani. His kids are fans of chicken and spinach sausage, pizza, and spanakopita. Owen has been through a picky phase, but getting him involved in making his meals has helped bring him around. According to Jeff, one of Owen’s favorite things to do is to help make pizza.”We usually buy prepared pizza dough, fresh mozzarella, whole peeled plum tomatoes, and chopped spinach. He helps with rolling out the dough and spreading out the ingredients. It’s good for us because he gets involved, and it’s an easy assembly and covers all of the nutritional bases.”
Chef: Liz Benno
Kid: Lucy, 1
Liz Benno worked in Mario Batali’s organization at several different stages in her career, most recently as the chef in the kitchen at his Italian Wine Merchants shop. Her husband, Jonathan, is the chef de cuisine at Per Se. Lucy mostly eats purees and soft-cooked vegetables. Her favorite meal is a puree of ground veal with carrots, onion,spinach, garlic, potato, basil and dried oregano. She also loves broccoli with potato, garlic, and onion, and her favorite snack-on-the-go is baguette stubs that Liz accumulates in their freezer.
Chef: Akhtar Nawab
Kid: Ela, 2
Akhtar Nawab is the chef and co-owner of the Manhattan restaurant Elettaria – Latin for “green cardamom,” and a play on Nawab’s daughter’s name. The market-driven menu at Elettaria draws on Nawab’s Indian heritage, but is also influenced by his time in classic French and seasonal New American restaurants. As you might expect from hisvaried experience, he feeds Ela a wide range of flavors and cuisines. Her favorite foods are dim sum or pasta, but she’s also been known to enjoy blue cheese. Is there anything Akhtar feeds his kid that he never thought would? Seems that even top chefs can appreciate McDonald’s French fries.
Chef: Peter Berley
Kids: Kayla and Emma (both adults)
Peter Berley is a culinary educator, a James Beard award winner for his book The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and the former chef at the vegan Angelica Kitchen. His daughters Kayla and Emma were raised on a mostly Macrobiotic diet focused on whole grains, soy, seaweed and fish. They lovedgrains and pastas, carrots, broccoli and string beans. Not every vegetable was given a free pass – appreciation for eggplant and asparagus came later in life. Still, they snacked on roasted seaweed the way some kids snack on saltines. Like most kids, they loved repetition – but Berley didn’t consider feeding his daughters the same thing over and over again as a rut. He looks at favorite foods in the same way he sees a child’s favorite book: repetition helps development, whether it’s reading the same Curious George book thirty times in a row or eating the same thing every night for a month.
Chef: Ben Pollinger
Kids: age 5, 3, and 4 months
Ben Pollinger is the Executive Chef at Oceana and draws on his time in restaurants as diverse as Lespinasse and Tabla to create globally inspired seafood-focused menus. He cooks more simply at home, but approached tasks like making infant purees with a production-cooking mindset. Like many parents, he cooks and freezes purees in ice cube trays – but more quickly and on a larger scale than most. “I could knock out a month’s worth of food, about five starches, eight vegetables and four or five proteins, in a few hours.” His two oldest were early fans of dishes like venison stew and lightly spiced (but very fragrant in the diaper) Indian dal.However, Ben says that they both started to get more selective around the age of two, and that their pickiness had no rhyme or reason. The kids both love hard-boiled eggs, but one will only eat the whites and the other the yolk. Ben is aware that favorite childhood foods aren’t always an indication of future culinary aptitude. His favorite food growing up? “Canned ham: How the hell did I end up doing this for a living?”