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.
45-year-old Rob Cunningham is the Executive Chef who oversees all restaurants at East Hotel Beijing. The Sydney born kungfu lover cooks a variety of cuisines with a pleasant personality. He lives in Beijing with his wife Rani, daughter Sachi (9) and son Taj (7). Sachi attends Daystar and Taj studies at YCIS.
How do you think that your career as a chef has influenced your children?
Who’s to say; they are still very young. I hope it has opened their minds to creative areas that they may not have thought of. They definitely look at restaurants differently. They talk about the food quality, cooking, taste, and service. They both love food due to the fact that they have been visiting restaurants since they were born.
How have your cooking habits changed after you become a parent?
Fast and healthy with a focus on fresh and organic produce.
How has your family influenced your cooking?
I grew up on a farm in country Victoria so I have always felt a strong connection to simple, unfussy, well-cooked food; my kids are the same.
What is your first food memory when you were a kid?
Pavlova and homemade small goods as I grew up on a pig farm.
How do you cook differently when at restaurant and home?
I use more butter in the restaurants.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a chef for the family?
The long hours can be hard on your family sometimes you just cannot attend events with your family. The advantage is that they get to hang out with very interesting people thanks to the hospitality industry.
What’s in your fridge now at home?
Cheese, milk, butter, Fresh vegetables and fruit.
Is there a guilty-secret ingredient in your kitchen at home — something you’d rather not be spotted using?
A recent "wow" food moments you shared with your family
Last weekend I cooked a family dinner with friends we made a lot of different dishes but the freshly boiled lobster was well received. We served Pavlova for dessert – and that always goes down a treat.
What’s your favorite go-to ingredient?
Eggs. You can always make something good with eggs; omelets, frittatas – my kids love them.
Do your family members have any quirky food demands?
No, but the kids and I are obsessed with ice-cream.
The pickiest adult customer you can remember
A recent guest was allergic to onions, garlic, peppers, salt, olive oil, eggs, peanuts, milk, mushrooms, fermented foods, and she was vegetarian. That’s a little tricky, but all part of the fun of cooking for people. A guest like that challenges you. You really have to think quickly to come up with a special menu for them.
Are your kids picky? How would you deal with picky kids?
My kids are not picky; they will try anything. I don’t deal with picky kids because they are not mine. I leave that up to their parents.
Do you teach your children about nutrition and food origins?
Yes, my wife Rani is very focused on nutrition and healthy eating.
Do you invite the kids into the kitchen?
The kids love cooking, they love helping out. I guess their favorite thing to cook on their own would be breakfast. They always make scrambled eggs.
When you have the opportunity to spend a day with your family, what do you do?
Go for a run with the kids, come home and let them cook us all scrambled eggs, then go someplace for lunch and dinner. In between catch a movie at the cinema. I love just hanging out with my kids and wife. We don’t plan too much. We also really enjoy heading to the countryside with friends. It gives the kids a chance to get dirty.
Photos: Rob Cunningham and East Hotel Beijing