When it comes to coaxing kids to eat well or try new foods, you might think restaurant chefs, with their culinary know-how, would fare better than the average parent. Certainly a chef’s toddler doesn’t turn up his nose at dinner, does he?
Or do local chefs feed their kids the same things we normal cooks feed ours? Many local chefs, including Bryan Voltaggio, owner of Volt in Frederick and runner-up on the last season of “Top Chef,” have answers to what chefs feed their kids.
“It’s really tough to get him to eat proteins,” Voltaggio says of his two-and-a-half-year old son Thacher, he will eat chicken nuggets. Nor does he like pasta. “I thought that was weird,” Voltaggio says. “Typically kids like noodles simply prepared or spaghetti. But he hasn’t crossed over to that yet.”
Luckily, Thacher loves fruits and vegetables. “I think he loves fruits because of the sugar,” Voltaggio laughs. Thacher particularly loves berries, whether blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries. He also loves carrots, dried fruit, and dehydrated vegetable chips. What else will Thacher eat? “Right now he is the king of bacon,” Voltaggio says. “He loves the saltiness, I guess. I haven’t quite figured it out. I think that’s kind of cool because every chef loves bacon. So it’s like having another chef in the family.”
When Thacher tries new foods, it doesn’t happen at home, Voltaggio adds. It happens at the restaurant. “He’ll come in and run around the kitchen, and he always wants to go in my walk-in [refridgerator],” Voltaggio explains. “He loves to go in there and take a look; he loves to look at the fish. He’ll go in there and point out an ingredient —say it’s a pear. He’ll pick it up and he’ll start eating pears for the first time. So it’s pretty cool.”
Voltaggio also takes his son to the farmer’s market in Frederick on Saturday mornings, where he lets Thacher pick out new foods to try. Being a chef’s son also means Thacher has lots of food-related toys such as the Melissa & Doug wooden sushi set, cookie trays, and the vegetable-cutting set. “We try to introduce him to foods that way and show him photos, so when he sees them in the [grocery] store, he can relate to it and recognize it,” Voltaggio explains. “We are finding he has more interest in food if he is constantly surrounded by it.”
Other than that, he and his wife, Jennifer, do the typical things parents do to get their kids to eat, he says. “Obviously, you have to cook a separate meal for them sometimes while enjoying your own. We try to encourage him to eat off our plates a little bit.”
And when Voltaggio cooks dinner at home, he tries to keep it straightforward, preparing items such as pizza or different fresh vegetables. “I try to keep it simple because for a kid, it can’t be too involved. It has to be very, very simple. I’m starting to learn that.”
Voltaggio is also in charge of making Thacher breakfast, listing off items they typically enjoy, such as homemade pancakes, waffles, yogurt and fruit, and, of course bacon. But, like any toddler, Thacher can be capricious.
“There are mornings where he doesn’t want to eat breakfast at all, and then there are mornings, and it always seems it’s on days when we’ve got to rush out, where he’ll say, ‘Dad, I want pancakes.’ And I’m like, ‘Okaaay…guess we’ll have to work that in.’ And that’s fine, because I’ll stop and be late for whatever while he eats something homemade,” he says.
What advice would Voltaggio give parents? Above all, cook with your children. “Interest starts at home. Thacher loves to cook with me. He’ll peel carrots, scramble eggs. If kids are learning how to cook and are around food and involved with it, then I think eventually they’ll be more invested in trying new things.”
Pasquale Carannante, chef/owner, Bella Napoli, Pasadena
Father of Sofia, 2 ½ and Liliana, 16 mos.
“Sofia used to eat everything, but now anything green and vegetables we are having trouble getting her to eat. She still likes peas and corn; I can’t keep her away from corn. I don’t get it, but at least she is eating some vegetables. Liliana, now she loves everything. She loves spaghetti and meatballs. She’ll eat veal and shrimp in all varieties: baked, fried, in a sauce.
I make a little dish that in Italian is called Pastina. It’s a small dish for kids made with cream cheese and any small pasta. They love it and will ask for it. That and pizza, like any other kid. They walk in the restaurant, and say, ‘Daddy, I want to make pizza.’ And so we do. We have fun. They are more likely to eat it if they make it themselves.”
Carl Lawrence, head chef, Woodfire Restaurant, Severna Park
Father of Amanda, 18; Cassandra, 16; Alex, 13; and Aaron, 7
“As far as homemade, they like blackened chicken and fettuccine Alfredo, beef tips in red wine sauce over pasta or rice. I try to make a little of everything, but that’s what they gravitate to. They will ask for that three or four times a week; they are all about repetition. My background is Jamaican, so we also eat goat and ox tail, things typically eaten in Jamaica that might be out of the ordinary here.
My oldest has gotten picky. She’s a wannabe vegetarian. She eats a lot of chicken and greens. The other three are not as picky. My middle two are even trying sushi. That’s their Friday night thing when I’m not home. The three oldest really like sauces with alcohol in them, like a red wine or white wine sauce. They will literally lick their plates clean on those.”
Randy Ballard, chef, Federal House Bar & Grille, Annapolis
Father of Olivia, 9
“Olivia, she’s boring. She lives on plain pasta. Sometimes I can get her to eat a hot dog or tater tots, but it’s hard to get her to eat much. She does like carbs: potatoes, bread, pasta.
She’s not a condiment or sauce person. She’ll eat fruits and vegetables, sure, but she doesn’t ask for it. Like she’ll eat lettuce, but it has to be iceberg with nothing on it. Now bread, I can get her to eat multigrain if it’s fresh and homemade.
Growing up Olivia was exposed to a variety of foods, but she didn’t take to it. I have two older kids (33 and 25 years old) who are out on their own, and there was never a food issue with them. But this last one is a tough one.”
Philip Sokolowski, executive chef, Severn Inn, Annapolis
Father of Ashley, 13 and Emily, 11
“In the past year, both my daughters have gotten to the point they will try about anything. If given a choice, Ashley will ask for homemade gourmet pizza, such as tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil, while Emily will ask for beef and broccoli stir-fry. It’s a little tough because although they are close, they really butt heads on food. If I make one happy, the other one isn’t, except taco night, which we usually do once a week. It keeps peace in the household.
Ashley doesn’t like spicy foods. She has a sensitive palate and picks up a lot in food that surprises even me. Emily, however, likes Chinese and Asian foods best. She will eat sushi and likes spicy tuna roll and soft-shell crab tempura.”
Michael Rork, head chef, Hemingway’s, Stevensville
Father of Michael, 28; Andrew, 18; and Justin, 16
“Andrew doesn’t eat too many greens. I can force him to eat them, but he’s very independent. Michael, growing up, would only eat things like pasta with a cream sauce, fettuccine Alfredo. Now that he’s grown up, he’s a little more adventurous. Justin, he’s my adventurous eater; he eats escargot and mussels. He’s pretty open to anything. He enjoys food.
They eat fast food here and there. The problem is, they eat when they get out of school with their friends, and then they aren’t hungry when they get home for dinner.
Kids should eat well and be healthy. My kids love dessert, but they have to finish the meal first.”
By Karen Gaspers