Parenting and being a chef are similar in certain ways. You might feel pressured to cook something fresh every day when your kids are“starving and need to eat now”, but chefs deal with that situation all the time. What if a chef happens to be a parent? We wonder what super powers it takes to deal with both picky kids and picky customers. Our blog series Chef Papa and Chef Mama finds out.
“Most kids are full of energy and are sponges for learning. They want to be a part of the action; even a simple task like using the pepper mill for a sauce keeps their interest. It’s when they get older and the “why…..why…..why….” starts to happen, it makes the cooking process a little longer than normal. But a must is to help with the chopping, Maddie will hold the handle of the knife under my hand and we do it together.”
38-Year-old Nathan Brown is the Executive Chef with The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street. The Canadian kitchen veteran is experienced with global cuisine and has worked in luxury hotels in Singapore and Macau. He now happily lives in Beijing with his Philippine wife Mardy and daughter Maddie (5), who attends Eton Kids Central Park. As a parent chef, he seems more excited talking about his role as a dad than as a culinary professional!
How has your family influenced your cooking?
My wife Mardy is from Cebu so I have to keep in mind that tastes that she likes and doesn’t like. I like strong and bold flavors and Maddie is only 5 so I really have to adjust my cooking to their palate first, then if I want to make things stronger or spicier I will remove their dinner first from the pan, then add some more spice for myself. This is much easier to do when cooking Chinese or Asian food.
How have your cooking habits changed since you become a parent?
As a parent you are more conscious of what you feed your kids. You want everything to be as healthy as possible. Once my daughter Maddie switched to solid foods I would make my own purées for her so I knew exactly what went into them.
How has your career as a chef influenced your children?
My daughter can be a part of the cooking process at home and can see how things are made from absolute scratch. When she is a part of the process it makes her more willing to try new things. When I do some more complicated items at home it gives my family a sense of what I do every day and how long it takes to do restaurant quality food.
What is your first food memory?
I have two actually. First, when growing up in Canada you spend a lot of time at the hockey arena eating arena snacks from the concession stand. The first time I added vinegar to my French fries at the age of about 6 or 7 at the arena I was blown away at the sour flavor, which I still love to this day.
Second, my mom’s tuna casserole. I didn’t appreciate it back then. I used to moan and groan every time we had to eat it, and now it is the first thing I eat whenever I go home for a visit.
What’s in your fridge now at home?
Japanese pickles, eggs, plenty of fresh vegetables, milk, whole grain bread, mustard, Guilin chili paste, oyster sauce, chicken stock and of course some cheese.
Do you cook differently when at restaurant versus at home?
For me, there is no difference. I cook at home the way I cook at the hotel which annoys my wife. She always asks, “why do you have to use so many pots, bowls and utensils?” I try my best to keep that in mind before I start whatever dish it is I make at home.
Do you have some sort of pantry essentials at home to whip up handy, healthy and tasty meals when the kids are “hungry and have to eat now”?
Maddie is pretty good. When she is hungry she will ask me “what can I help you make for dinner?” reading between the lines…
What’s your daughter’s favorite food?
Mac & Cheese with broccoli and spinach inside. She is also a big fan of nice healthy sandwiches. Toasted whole grain bread – lots of tomatoes, lettuce and shaved turkey breast, and “don’t forget the mustard”.
Is your daughter picky?
Not at all. She knows she has to try at least a little bit of everything she is offered.
How would you help kids who don’t like veggies?
Have them be a part of the process in cooking them. I never started Maddie on vegetables at restaurants, only at home. Now when we go to restaurants she asks for broccoli and spinach and other vegetables.
How would you encourage a kid to try new things, like an oyster?
Make sure things are seasoned properly first and as mild as possible. Try the item with them at the same time and only have them try a piece that is one tenth the size of the piece that you are trying with them. It is a visual thing, but, it seems to work with my daughter.
Do you teach your children about food origins?
Absolutely. If we do Nasi Goreng, Bibimbap or Coq au Vin at home I will explain where it comes from and why it is cooked the way it is.
When you have the opportunity to spend a day with your daugther, what do you do?
Go home and start a “farm to table” experience, teaching my daughter where things come from and how they grow. It is going back to basics and getting in touch with the land and what it can produce.
What are your family’s favorite restaurants in Beijing?
Home Plate BBQ in Sanlitun for the house smoked ribs and sausages, and Bibigo in Guo Mao, My Soup and Lime Café in Central Park