A restaurant's kitchen is no place for kids. Typically, it's an intense maelstrom of activity with battle-scarred hands intensely absorbed in the craft: they chop and measure, they mince and mix.
There are knives, flames and pots boiling water everywhere, and the din of voices is barely audible over the soundtrack of Metallica or Mozart (depending on the tastes of the chef).
While the atmosphere of organized chaos may not be the ideal setting for children, for some, it's the only life they know.
"We had a crib in the restaurant," says Karen Martin, chef and co-owner of K&L Bistro in Sebastopol.
Martin recollects the early days when she and her husband, Lucas, were starting out. The couple has two sons, Jack and Lucas Jr. "I worked the line with [Lucas] on my back," says Martin. "We couldn't afford to have a babysitter, so the boys were here every night. It's been a long haul for them."
But she said the experience was positive because they were always together.
In a culture that encourages instant gratification, particularly when it comes to food, kids of chefs have a kind of built-in gratitude that comes from being around all that good food and learning its source first-hand. For these kids, a suppertime special of soubise of duck is as commonplace as the reliably kid-friendly mac 'n' cheese. Martin says her boys, now age 10 and 13, eat junk food on occasion but they "both have an exquisite palate and will eat stuff that other kids won't."
Growing up gourmet has meant her sons understand "food in its rawest form," says Martin, who beams with pride at her sons' appreciation of that fact.
Louis Maldonado, executive chef at Spoonbar and a Top Chef finalist, says his five-year-old son, Benjamin, has been exposed to a variety of foods and ingredients not typically seen on the kids' menu. His mother, who is Korean, introduced him to kimchi. The Korean staple is typically served with a nutritious accompaniment of rice and vegetables. "[He] doesn't shy away from anything." Maldonado says. "He is huge on raw food, [but] not really crazy about steak."
Maldonado says his son also understands where everything comes from, which results in a deeper appreciation of the food put before him. When the family does go out for dinner, Maldonado says it's mostly for Mexican or sushi. The family has a three-times-a-year policy when it comes to In-N-Out Burger or McDonald's.
The cuisine at Santa Rosa's Bistro 29 emphasizes regional French (Bretagne) food, but owner Brian Anderson mixes it up for his two teen children at home, where Thai noodles are a house fave. Anderson opened Bistro 29 with his wife, Francoise, in 2008—daughter Claire worked in the kitchen when she was 13—and wanted to expose Sonoma County residents to cuisine local to Brittany. (Buckwheat crêpes are a specialty)
In that time, Claire and her brother, Tom, have both developed sophisticated, adventurous palates. "They love oysters and tongue tacos," Anderson says. "My son is a big meat eater—duck, steak," while Claire is more likely to enjoy "salad and a charcuterie plate with some nice cheese.
"They are very expensive to take out," he says.
Recipes for kids
Pasta sauce from Karen Martin of K & L Bistro:
“Here is the recipe for the pasta sauce that is such a hit with my kids. It is usually served with the long, telephone cord noodles, but those are expensive and hard to find so you could substitute fusilli.” Karen Martin.
1 lb. ground pork
1 yellow onion (diced)
1 TBSP garlic (minced)
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP pepper
Cook these together until the meat turns color and the onion is translucent.
1 cup white wine
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
Let cook together for about 15-20 minutes on a low simmer. Toss with cooked noodles of your choice and top with lots of grated Parmesan. Karen likes more black pepper on top and adds chili flakes, but some people might find that too spicy.
Roast chicken, pickled golden raisins, chicories, and green garlic from Louis Maldonado of Spoonbar Restaurant:
1 5-pound chicken, trussed
400g kosher salt
4 liters water
1 bunch thyme
1 head garlic
1 bunch tarragon
¼ pound butter
Mix the water and salt and whisk till fully incorporated, add the chicken and brine for 3 hours, remove and let dry for 36-48 hours.
In a large sauté pan or cast iron heat the pan till smoking hot, add 4 TBSP oil and start to sear the chicken, breast side first and then rotating to get all the sides golden. Add thyme, garlic, tarragon and butter and put into a 325 degree oven. Baste every 15 minutes for 2 hours, remove and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Pickled golden raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
Bring everything to a boil and slowly reduce till the syrup is dry and glazes the raisins.
Chicories and green garlic
3 bunch mixed chicories, separated into leaves. Chard or kale works, too.
½ pound green garlic, cut into 1-inch slices
4 TBSP olive oil
Saute green garlic in olive oil till tender and then add the chicories. Lightly wilt and season with salt
Carve the breast of the chicken first and cut into 4 pieces, cut the chicken legs off and cut the legs in half. Serve a piece of breast and leg, garnish with the pickled raisins, green garlic and chicories.