Jan. 19 2016 01:02 PM

Chefs’ kids eat differently than your kids

The Sinsays in their dining room

It is a borderline bitter irony of the life of a chef that they feed anyone and everyone every night except their loved ones. It's a part of the profession's dark side that isn't depicted on the Food Network or Top Chef. Long work weeks and brutal daily schedules represent a domestic challenge to which different chefs respond in different ways.

Several themes emerge, though. Many chefs approach the problem by making time to cook with their kids. For chef James Montejano (La Valencia Hotel) it's an important part of nourishing his daughter Valerie: "Teaching her to cook helps get her away from pizza and other BS food." She makes "omelettes, scrambled eggs, quesadillas; she wants to cook for me, she likes to get involved."

Chad White (La Justina, Tijuana, Native Post & Provisions, Spokane) cooks with his kids, too: "Sophia (8) who loves vegetables picks out just that and Isabella (10), my little carnivore, selects the beast for the feast."

For the children of many chefs, there's little chance to become the sort of picky eaters parents so often describe. Anthony Sinsay (Duke's La Jolla) and his wife, former chef Elyse Sinsay, made it "a point to make no special provisions for what is normally deemed 'kid food.'" The kids eat what their parents eat. While it was OK for them to say they didn't like something it wasn't OK to do so without trying it first. This way they developed their own palates; palates that reflect the Filipino, Colombian and Mexican heritage of the parents and include flavors ranging from octopus to offal and spicy foods to vegetables (even the oft-dreaded broccoli).

The menu at Javier Plascencia's house is as cross-cultural as at his restaurants (Bracero Cocina de Raiz, Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro, Mision 19). The story was similar for Accursio Lota's (Solare Ristorante) son, who eats "what we are eating everyday" to make sure his "taste buds are receiving different categories of food." Says Lota: "I'm not training him...yet!" Add White's kids to that group: "You must try everything once; this has been in place since day one." White credits that rule with his "little ones" never really developing a negative opinion on vegetables or things like sea urchin or beef tongue. "They've been eating them since in diapers."

Many chefs have one advantage their non-chef counterparts lack: their restaurants. Montejano's daughter favors the bento boxes he prepares at the hotel. Jeff Rossman (Terra American Bistro, Bunz) says his kids "eat anything on the menu" (though they were quirkily picky growing up). Plascencia loves cooking for his kids at the restaurants, particularly Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe.

Because of their schedules, though, most chefs put an emphasis on breakfast and, to a somewhat lesser extent, lunch. Bo Bendana Sein (Mi Casa Supper Club, Rosarito Beach) cooks breakfast for her children every morning. Sometimes, however, it's different from the usual bacon and eggs (though bacon sometimes becomes an effective bribe), featuring Moroccan barley soup with milk, cumin and thyme. Sometimes it will be scrambled eggs with a combination of spices (cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper) or French toast with Nutella. Fresh berries, fruit juices and Yakult (a probiotic dairy product) are always involved. The family breakfast Plascencia prepares on weekends—often, late breakfasts—involves a variety of egg dishes or chilaquiles.

Each of these chefs had given significant thought to how to go about sharing meals with their children. Perhaps because of the limitations their careers place on time and lifestyle, chefs seem to pay a lot more attention to having meals with family, even while they have fewer opportunities to do so.


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