January 15, 2006
Generation Pad Thai
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
The owner of the Gucci handbag plunked it down at the Fairway cash register, next to three expensive cheeses, a large filet mignon, two packages of Cocoa Puffs Milk ‘n Cereal Bars and an eight-pack of apple juice boxes, and impatiently awaited her tally.
If we can infer that the apple juice was not meant as a chaser for her English farmstead cheese, may we then stop to ponder why she would foist such foodstuffs on her offspring? Or is it that American children have somehow conspired to turn their otherwise reasonable parents into weak-willed rulers of their collective roosts, tricked into believing that it is acceptable to ask a dinner-party host carving a roast for a corn-syrup-packed protein alternative. Truly, a chicken/nugget conundrum.
The same parents who micromanage every other aspect of their children’s lives - puzzle tutoring for 4-year-olds, clarinet lessons, baby yoga - seem to stop the mini-me’ing at the lunch box. The evidence surrounds us. Syrupy shots of glucose masquerading as yogurt. Premade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. (I long to have been in that marketing meeting: “Working parents have no time to hoist a butter knife!”) An abomination called string cheese.
Skip your starchy e-mail about food snobbery: even those parents who torture others with cellphone conversations plotting a reservation at the new Batali venture serve Gummi Bears as a soccer snack. Do not be fooled!
So what would Daniel Boulud do? Foie-gras-stuffed chicken fingers?
I polled several chefs with young children to see what they fed them and found serious challenges to the notion that small people simply will not brook fresh vegetables, texture or spice. They serve their children pad Thai, which blends pungent seasonings like fish sauce and tamarind with noodles, eggs and peanuts.
“I look in people’s fridges and it appalls me,” said Hugo Matheson, a chef at the Kitchen in Boulder, Colo. “The demographic around here doesn’t have financial issues, but they still buy prepackaged lasagna from Whole Foods when all the kid really needs to eat is half a chicken breast.”
The fact that chefs’ kids eat better than yours or mine isn’t surprising. They often bring the little ones to work, where they eat tiny plates of duck confit (“They lap it up,” said Matheson of his nearly 3-year-old twins) or buckwheat pasta (the 2-year-old and 4-year-old children of Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen in Portland, Ore., request it). They also have rules at home:
1. Make your children eat at the table from a very young age. Jody Adams, the chef at Rialto in Cambridge, Mass., said that her children - Oliver and Roxanne - never had highchairs. “It was really hard, because 2-year-olds throw food. But I saw the benefit in treating the dinner table as something that was important and that everyone had to participate in.”
2. Make them eat what you do, even if you have to purée it. “If we ate butternut squash and carrots, so did they,” Matheson said, “and sometimes with fish. I just really thinned it with cooking water.” Grant Achatz, the chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago, treated his 4-year-old to a 10-course dinner. “He didn’t finish everything, but he tried every course, which included white truffles, crab, bison,” he said. Do not feel compelled to top this.
3. Pack lunches fashioned from leftovers. “If we go for Thai food,” said Naomi Hebberoy, a chef and owner of the Gotham Building Tavern in Portland, Ore., her daughter, August, “takes pad Thai the next day.”
4. Eschew Baggies filled with Goldfish. (Car rides are exempt.) “If kids are hungry, they’re going to eat,” Dolich said. “If you fill them up on Bugles, they won’t.”
5. Buy them the most expensive chocolate you can afford. Who craves Ho Hos when they’ve had Scharffen Berger? I do. But I wasn’t raised on the good stuff.
Lest you think this is some culinary tomfoolery, these are the food ways our forefathers hewed to. “Historically, there was no such thing as children’s food,” said Andrew F. Smith, who teaches culinary history at the New School in New York. “Babies would eat what adults ate, chopped up, until Gerber created baby food in 1927.” “Children’s meals” didn’t exist until the McDonald’s Happy Meal came along in the late 1970’s, Smith said, and only when snack-food producers concluded that their real market was children did they start sponsoring events and advertising in the 1950’s.
A caveat: Even chefs’ kids eat boxed macaroni and cheese (albeit Annie’s, the organic kind). Feel free to wolf down wooden spoonfuls of it as you make it, too.
8 ounces rice noodles
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 cups broccoli florets
1 carrot, thinly sliced
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges
Red pepper flakes (optional).
1. Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and ¼ cup water; set aside. Lightly steam the broccoli and carrot; set aside.
2. Drain the noodles. Set a wok over high heat for 1 minute, then add the oil and heat until almost smoking. Add the garlic and ginger; sauté for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and sauté until almost cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
3. Add the noodles and stir-fry for 1 minute. Pour in three-quarters of the tamarind sauce and toss to coat the noodles. Add more sauce if needed. Cook until the noodles are al dente, then push them to one side of the wok and scramble the eggs in the remaining space. Add the shrimp, broccoli, carrot, scallions, bean sprouts and half the peanuts. Toss to mix. Divide among 4 plates and garnish with the remaining peanuts, the cilantro, lime wedges, sesame seeds and (for brave children) red pepper flakes. Serves 2 adults and 2 children. Adapted from Naomi Hebberoy of Gotham Building Tavern.
Oliver’s Chicken Stew
1 3 ½ - to 4-pound chicken, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 medium carrots, thickly sliced
4 medium leeks, tender white part only, thickly sliced
4 celery stalks, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
½ cup stellini (tiny star pasta)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 slices toasted Italian bread
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese.
1. Place the chicken in a 6-quart pot breast side down. Add the stock, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil, skimming often. Add the carrots, leeks, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and parsley and simmer. After 15 minutes, flip the chicken and cook for 25 minutes more. Remove the chicken and let cool.
2. Strain the vegetables, discarding the bay leaf and parsley. Return the stock to the pot; simmer until reduced by half. Pull the chicken meat off the bones. Add the pasta to the stock and cook for 3 minutes, then whisk in the butter, lemon juice, tarragon and parsley. Add the chicken and vegetables; heat through.
3. To serve, place a piece of toast in the bottom of each of 6 bowls, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan. Top with stew. Serves 6. Adapted from “In the Hands of a Chef,” by Jody Adams and Ken Rivard.