Last June, I had the pleasure of attending Tony Bourdain‘s book signing at Union Square Barnes & Noble. I was actually teaching an art lesson on the upper east side that day, and literally dashed out right after to go down and wait on the 4th Floor for a good handful of hours. Armed with my copy of Kitchen Confidential (ernstwhile deciding to buy his new book as well) and a ham & salami sandwich which I continuously snuck quick bites of (pork-on-pork, I figured only he would really approve of such a thing). Needless to say, the wait was totally worthwhile and thank god I decided to wait, because although he had a signing on Wall St. that morning, the place was PACKED to the gills and spilling downstairs to the cafe’. It really was great hearing him speak, finally meeting him, and hearing all that he had to say regarding his crazy life, his travels, the restaurant industry, but more so, his endless respect and love for food. And truly, Bourdain has nearly seen and had it all as he apparently travels over a good 300-days a year for his show, ‘No Reservations’ on Travel Channel.
During the Q&A, I nudged E to ask him what his favorite pork was (which Bourdain misheard as “porn” and it was quite the awesome moment indeed) so that really, I could ask my question which was a bit burned on the brain. Back around March 2010, there was an article posted last year in the NY Times by Nicola Marzovilla (owner of I Trulli in Gramercy Park). Basically, he made the point that children’s menus in restaurants aim too low, and how such easy selections couldn’t show just how capable children could be in trying new things with more exposure to different food. Sure, he too put up with the ever-present power-struggles with his kids that most parents have, but he brought up a great point that I’ve seen many parents question. I decided to ask Tony Bourdain how he felt about it as a father, himself. It was a great answer, for the most part, which was that he agreed with Marzovilla’s point but also added (as I will paraphrase): “But going to McDonald’s with not make you a [idiot].”
So thus brings up the question to us all: Why is it that we love food and what is the connection to it that we truly have? for most, if not everyone, a lot of the time food will provide for us the nostalgia of things we loved throughout our lives from the earliest days. Perhaps it all lies in setting up the blank canvas in the beginning but never being limited to what goes on there. We live in a country where we can seriously be majorly educated on great food from all around the world, yet somehow we still seem somewhat still limited?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the huge ironies in me even writing in favor of advocating children’s exploration with food:
- I was the PICKIEST, PICKIEST of eaters from age 7 pretty much up until I turned 20. and of course, rejection of Korean food was a given at the time. I truly hated it.
- In a restaurant, I expect to have an enjoyable meal. I don’t care how old you are. When you’re in a restaurant, you have restaurant etiquette, period. Case in point, going to get Italian with my cousins in the East Village and an actor (whom I will not name) arrived with a large entourage of people and lo and behold, one of them had a small child dressed up as a pirate with a hook. Everything was fine and despite the kid running around, we were able to tune the kid out until something flew in the air and knocked the side of my glasses. Lo and behold, little Pirette had thrown up her hook in the heat of the moment and it smacked me in the face. Um, no. I picked up the hook, calmly went over to her table (actor staring at me) and looked DIRECTLY at little Pirette (not the mother, but definitely loud enough so she and the rest of the table could hear) and said, “Excuse me sweetheart (holding up the hook) but you threw THIS at my head.” The mother of course apologized and the customers around us lauded my effort to get that kid sitting once and for all. But of course, no, little Pirette couldn’t be tied down and once again ran amuck in the restaurant while her apologetic mother chatted on with her table. Unbelievable.
In the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education (originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy), cooking is actually a large part of a child’s education. They view it, as is with the rest of their philosophy, of using curriculum to help show children their own full potential and expand their creative thinking. Cooking itself, is a great part of the curriculum that offers a full blown all-around lesson in science, math, social/ emotional development, enhancing fine & gross motor skills, language, etc. As well, the emphasis is placed heavily on community, so essentially there are groups of children who are making lunch for everyone in their class! Sounds crazy eh? but I personally find it to be great. I loved cooking as a kid, and had it not been for cooking as part of learning in school I would have never known what a potato latke was nor what sumac tea tasted like (thanks, Mr. SanMarco!)
For me, my favorite part about the cooking in my own house is how I can re-live the scents and tastes in my own now. Frankly, the scent of sesame oil from my kitchen is unmistakeably comforting, and yet still, eating kalbi in a loud, Korean restaurant is still something a bit pleasurable to the senses. Our close family friends made THE BEST Italian food I’ve ever had in my life, and it definitely set the standard high from early on. You just can’t uphold the love you have for certain food in your life, because it’s always been in there since you were a “foodette” yourself!
And ps, you can’t deny the joy it brings kids when they’re finally learning about making some of their favorite foods. I recently taught children how to make chicken nuggets and oven fries (at their request in a discussion around a lunch table) with fresh chicken breast and red potatoes. Everything from smelling and touching the herbs, to showing how cornflake breadcrumbs could be made, to the chicken itself (a lot of them thought the chicken felt much better before they had to put it in the eggwash!) to tossing the chopped potatoes in olive oil, salt & pepper, it was great to hear one say with a smile, “Well, in cooking, you sometimes do need to get a little messy.”
It’s interesting how in the giant “foodie” movement, there’s a new wave of people so interested and fascinated by food. The preparation of it, the experimentation, upgrades of the original. I wonder to what extent how much of that truly stems from one’s childhood. I find that in this day and age, fewer and fewer parents cook and it’s no wonder why. There really is a lot going on in the new family dynamics in America, and time and money are quite something to behold. Ps, the old-school system just doesn’t work anymore. The old-school mentality in which the woman of the house cooked and that was that. Sure, there are plenty of women still like myself, who do like to cook, but the system was overthrown by many, and somehow home delivery spread like the plague. Inevitably, things have changed and so have we, so we all gotta make the effort. I do love my pizza from across the street, but learning how to make it really did kinda change everything.
** And for the New York parents, here is a great source of ideas if you ever need them: TimeOut New York Kids. I’m a huge fan of TimeOut New York in general, but once I found out they had one specifically made for kids’ restaurants and activities it was a great tickle. A great source for finding great food, and even seeing what places even offer up free and discounted eating for kids (Mr. Marzovilla’s restaurant included, on Sundays).
I really can only hope that when I have my own kids, that we’ll have the fun as a family exploring not only great food in our kitchen, but the great restaurants everyone has to offer. God forbid they should ever be like I was, but we’ll tackle those hurdles (hopefully, successfully) one morsel at a time.
Perhaps until then, good memories are great sources to rely on. 😉