“What’s the first dish you ever made?” asks a Dulwich College Beijing (DCB) student to Michelin-starred Chef Marc Fosh. It is mid-March and the British food personality is in town for a cooking demonstration and Q&A with DCB’s Junior School students.
“I think the first meal I ever made was probably a simple roast chicken and it still is my favorite dish today,” he says. “I love to flavor a roast chicken with some garlic, thyme, and some lemon and put it in the oven.”
This simplicity remains at the heart of Fosh’s food philosophy today, with a focus on fresh ingredients and ease of preparation. Fosh describes himself as “an ambassador for good food.” As the father of three teenagers, he firmly believes that nutritious food and a love of cooking are essential for good health.
Beijing is the internationally-renowned chef’s first stop in Asia as part of his tour of Dulwich College International (DCI) schools. By the time this article comes out, Fosh will have completed two weeks’ worth of cooking classes, talks with students and staff about nutrition, and collaboration with caterers at Dulwich campuses to develop “Fosh Tuesdays,” a set of recipes to be included in the schools’ weekly menus. To complement the tour, DCI also created a recipe box containing original Fosh recipes as well as 30 recipes submitted by members of the Dulwich community and hand-picked by Fosh.
Fosh is one of Europe’s most celebrated culinary experts. Though classically-trained in French cuisine in London, it was in Spain that Fosh developed his signature passion for Mediterranean cuisine and became the only British chef to be awarded a Michelin star in the country. He has lived in Spain for over 20 years and opened Simply Fosh restaurant in Palma de Mallorca in 2009, earning another Michelin star along the way. Additionally, Fosh writes weekly recipe and food columns for various newspapers and produces his own Mediterranean food magazine called Fosh Food.
With food scandals rife in China, it’s more important than ever to choose unprocessed, quality ingredients from trusted sources like organic farms and farmer’s markets. With springtime finally here, now is the perfect time to re-examine your family’s buying and eating habits.
To gain further perspective, we also speak with Beijing-based Daniel Urdaneta, father of a 6-year-old boy and executive chef for Mosto Restaurant Group. The Venezuelan native has won Chef of the Year awards in multiple publications since the 2008 opening of Mosto, the group’s first restaurant. The group also includes Modo Urban Deli and Moka Bros, the latter of which is particularly known for its commitment to fresh ingredients and healthy dishes.
Fosh and Urdaneta may not necessarily see eye-to-eye about the specifics of meal planning at home, but they do agree on two fundamental principles: making tasty, wholesome meals is easy and igniting your child’s love for food starts with a simple invitation. The two chefs chat with us about nutrition and cooking with your kids, as well as offer a few practical tips to make mealtime more fun. Happy cooking!
Nosh with Fosh
What’s your cooking philosophy?
For me it’s all about fresh, local ingredients. I look for textures, colors, variety, and strip it down to the basic flavor of what things should taste like. For example, you want a carrot to taste like a carrot. Once you focus on the most important thing – the ingredients on a plate and you aren’t clouding them with anything else like heavy cream and butter – the byproduct is that it becomes really healthy.
What are the main takeaways from your cooking classes?
Simplicity. If you’re using fresh ingredients and you’re not over-complicating things, you can create something in a short space of time that’s very nutritious. It’s about inspiring people to cook, to have fun in the kitchen, and maybe ignite a little bit of a love for food. I like to make dishes people can prepare at home because if it seems too hard, then it’s not really inspiring. There’s not much point in me coming here and doing our Michelin dishes.
You have your hands full with three teenagers. Do they cook?
They all cook a bit. It’s important to try and get everyone involved and let them know what good food and bad food is. I’m trying to inspire my son to become a chef and go into the business and he’s resisting at the moment. I would be really happy if he went down this road because it is a great job if you’re dedicated. But it has to come from your heart.
Why is learning to cook so important?
As you get older, cooking for yourself is a very important part of your life – or it should be. Unfortunately, people who don’t cook for themselves don’t generally have great diets because they’re always ordering from a restaurant or ordering takeaway. It shouldn’t be a chore to go into the kitchen and cook; it should be something you’re doing because you want to nourish your family and the people you love.
Do parents need to like cooking in order to inspire their children?
I think we sometimes lack that drive and inspiration because we’re busy, and times have obviously changed from when my grandmother would spend all her time in the kitchen cooking for the family. But there are also ways to cook very simple, healthy food very quickly. So if you have a love of cooking yourself, you can inspire your own children.
How can parents get kids interested in cooking?
It’s about tiny steps. Make sure it’s something they’re going to enjoy eating. It’s getting them on a ladder to where they think they can do something and then trying to get them more involved. Kids’ attention spans can be very limited, but if you start off with something they’re excited about, it’s a good in.
Unfortunately, normally it is dessert. But at least they get a feel for food; they get to touch it and see there is a process involved, and realize that everything doesn’t come pre-packed.
What suggestions about diet do you have for teens going off to college?
Fresh fruits and vegetables are actually cheaper than protein. It’s about buying sensibly and buying every day that you’re going to cook. The weekly shop is an idea I think is totally wrong. Spend that time in a market, look at what you want, the prices you’re paying, and then cook what you buy so you’re not wasting. In certain ways, teens are easier because most of them realize that cooking is a fairly basic essential in life. When they want to become independent they might realize that, my God, they might actually have to make a spaghetti bolognese themselves.
What are your main concerns about nutrition as both a chef and a parent?
One facet of being a chef that we don’t consider enough is that our job is actually to nourish people and make people feel good through food. You obviously want the food to taste great but it should be healthy so hopefully the customer is going to live long enough to come back to your restaurant. If you overload food with heavy sauces, customers aren’t going to feel invigorated. From a parent’s standpoint, you want your kids to have a well-balanced diet and understand that everything they eat has an effect on what they do.
Speaking of food with an effect, sugar is the latest controversial food item. What’s your opinion?
Sugar is a massive problem because a lot of people are eating lot of processed foods that contains high levels of it and they don’t even know they’re eating it. Of course, labeling is a problem with a lot of other “healthy foods” like breakfast cereal and orange juice as well. The shocker for a lot of people is when you analyze them and realize they’re packed with sugar. Again, this goes back to the basic premise that if you’re cooking for yourself and buying fresh ingredients, you don’t have to worry about these things. Relying on supermarket chains to feed you processed foods is never going to be the solution.
What’s your advice on preparing meals that don’t require a lot of planning?
People tend to want to do too much. One of the things people say when they look at a complex dish is that it looks difficult to make, but once you strip down the components of it, it’s all quite simple. A lot of great recipes start with onion, garlic, and tomatoes. Rosemary and thyme can perk up any dish. I love coriander, though basil is my favorite herb in the summer.
Good olive oil and salt are essentials for me. A lot of people don’t realize that olive oil deteriorates very quickly; many people will buy olive oil, use a little bit, put it away in the cupboard for two years, and get it out now and again. After a year, it’ll be totally useless. It’s important to invest in a good salt. There’s a lot out there and in Spain we use flor de sal [hand-harvested sea salt]. It’s got a purer flavor so you can use less in your cooking. It’s basically the first layer on top of the salt marsh and it isn’t processed. It’s the processing that takes away all the natural elements and minerals so you’re only left with sodium and chloride.
Ask a Bro
Daniel, why does Moka Bros focus on going back to the basics?
It mostly comes from my childhood in Venezuela. My mom or someone was always home cooking; there was always something fresh. Of course, times have changed and people are busier, so it’s not that easy. But I think people are now going back to those roots and are starting to be healthier about what they eat every day, which is why we decided to create the concept.
Tell us a bit about Moka Bros’ cooking classes for kids at Solana.
Now that we have Moka Bros in Solana, we have a lot of families and thought “Why don’t we start involving kids and families?” We decided to teach kids how to make a recipe, eat it, talk a little about what healthy food is, and how fun it can be to eat healthy. Kids are really good because they observe a lot and like to have fun. We did classes twice with small groups of nine or ten and they were successful. Timing is a little complicated right now, but we’re looking to do more.
Does your son cook with you at home?
Yes, he does. He got interested based on the fact that I’m a chef but he really enjoys it. Of course he can’t really help too much yet but he helps me a little and pretend cooks by playing with toys.
How can parents get their kids interested in cooking from an early age?
My best advice is to just invite them and to make something that can be fun for them. Kids usually follow by example. For them, cooking is a game, especially if they’re young. Plus, it’s a good way to spend time together. Don’t make anything too complicated or have them cut, necessarily. You can have them assemble a sandwich or make dough. Just explain what you’re doing so they understand it. For sure, they’re going to have fun and ask you to do it again.
How can parents instill a love of cooking in their kids?
The first part is you need to cook; kids aren’t going to come by themselves. Even if you have an ayi and you ask her to cook with the kids, it’s never going to be the same. Parents are parents. You can always send them to a cooking class but if you want to make it fun, do it at home.
What are your main health concerns in Beijing, as both a parent and chef?
Like everybody else, my main worries are pollution and food sourcing. Nowadays, people are waking up to knowing where their food comes from and trying to follow the chain, but this is still very new. In the US, a lot of people are tracking where their food comes from but a lot of people don’t even stop to think whether to care about this or not. On the other hand, it’s complicated in a place like China to have whole control over where exactly everything comes from. We try to assure we do everything in the best way. Things will start changing and one day, China will be on top of it like many other places.
Do you have tips for parents and other caregivers on how to prepare simple, wholesome meals that don’t require a lot of work?
First, do research. You can plan your week. Go to the supermarket and buy what you can use up during the week. Have fresh produce in your fridge. There are meals you can cook in 20 minutes if you have produce in your fridge. Have vegetables, fruits, things like dried pasta, and rice, and whatever you do, try to do it fresh.
Pasta is good, especially for kids. Don’t use a sauce, use tomatoes instead. Cut them up, use a little garlic, and sauté it for 10 minutes. It tastes even better and it’s fresh. You can just cut up broccoli, boil it in water, blend it, and you have a soup. You can add any vegetable that your kid doesn’t usually like to eat raw, like spinach, and either add it to something or make a soup. It’s easier for them to eat it if it’s blended and they don’t see the whole, weird vegetable on their plate. If you want to be a little healthier, cook brown rice the day before and you can add to it for dinner. If you want to serve [food]fresh, you don’t need to do too much. It’s fast and it’s better than ordering pizza.
What items are stocked in your fridge at home at all times?
There’s always seasonal fruit, vegetables, and pasta. I always go for regular pasta because I’m a chef so I don’t usually go for the low-carb option. There’s always plenty of tomato and onion, and there’s always cheese. I try not to use too much but it’s always in my fridge. It doesn’t matter what people say about cheese, I love it.
1) Sun-Thu 11am-10.30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11.30pm. 1/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District (5208 6079, firstname.lastname@example.org), www.mokabros.com 朝阳区三里屯路81号那里花园1层 ; 2) Daily 10.30am-10.30pm. Lakeside Dining Street (east of Element Fresh), Solana, 6 Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu, Chaoyang District (5905 6259) 朝阳区朝阳公园路6号蓝色港湾商业区湖边美食街
The following is a partial list of local farmers’ markets:
Farm to Neighbor (F2N)
This weekly Sunday market in Gulou will expand to Shunyi on
Saturdays starting from this month. In addition to the usual selection of fresh foods, F2N will present workshops and fun activities related to food, cooking, gardening, and the environment. To learn more about their educational programs, follow username “farm2neighbors” on WeChat. Starting in May, the market will move outdoors to the open space behind Starbucks in Pinnacle Plaza.
Beijing Organic Farmers Market (Country Fair)
This farmers’ market takes place two to three times per week and is held in different locations. To join the mailing list, email email@example.com.
This monthly market held at the Canadian International School of Beijing brings together farmers, restaurants, small business owners, and designers to sell vegan and vegetarian products, fresh produce, green clothes and accessories, and more. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beijing Organic Consumers Association (BOCA)
This Yahoo group allows Beijing residents to exchange information about nutrition, health, and organic resources. health.groups.yahoo.com/group/beijing_organic_consumers
Photos: Dave PiXSTUDIO, Courtesy of DCB and Mosto Restaurant Group