In this month’s Raising A Healthy Appetite segment we sit down with the Hilton Toronto‘s Executive Chef Kevin Prendergrast, a man who chose an interesting strategy when it came to developing his son’s tastebuds…
Good Food Revolution: Hello Chef… now you have some experience raising a healthy appetite, don’t you?
Kevin Prendergrast: I do have some experience raising a healthy appetite… my son Zack.
GFR: And how do you remember you child’s appetite evolving? Being a Chef yourself, how did you guide this development? What were the very first steps when your child started on solids?
KP: My son’s mother was a very picky eater with a very limited palate. When my son Zack was born, I wanted to ensure that he did not follow in her footsteps, but rather to have a more developed and broader palate and love for food. As he grew and started on solid foods, I would have a very active role in preparing and introducing new tastes and textures to his diet.
GFR: What are your thoughts on the whole allergies side of things, and what do you put today’s prevalence of food sensitivities down to? Did you run into any issues with your child?
KP: Luckily, Zack did not have any food sensitivities as a child, nor does he have any now. I truly believe that food sensitivities and related issues can be minimized by eating organic, sustainable, and locally sourced products. Not only is this beneficial for our own health, but it is beneficial to the environment and promotes fresh and healthful foods produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
GFR: I’m still astonished how much processed food children are exposed to regularly. I’m quite strict about this. The closest our wee guy gets to processed foods would be bacon/salumi/cheese as I make almost everything from scratch… I’m sure it probably cheaper to prepare food like this as well… but then there is the matter of time I suppose. Thoughts?
KP: Home-cooked meals, rather than processed foods not only taste better, but are healthier and more nutritional. If one can organize themselves and spends just a few hours each week, he/she can prepare a wide variety of meals, snacks and foods that are fresh, flavourful, and present a much lower risk of food contamination.
GFR: And how do you feel about what children should be eating in restaurants?… and indeed if they should be in restaurants at all? How did you deal with this yourself? And where were favourites?
KP: Children should be eating in restaurants as they are customers too. Exposing children early in development to appreciate and enjoy food is creating a future generation of foodies, which will continue the food cycle. My son has always enjoyed a wide variety of food cultures and includes Tundra Restaurant (of course!) as well as (the now sadly departed) Niagara Street Café and Scaramouche as some of his favorite restaurants.
On another note, I do have a lot of nieces and nephews who I think I may have influenced as well, over the years. When children are together at family gatherings or in restaurants, if one child is willing to try it and like it, chances are, the other children will be more willing to try it to. Nobody wants to be the odd one out… kind of like the old Life commercial – “Give it to Mikey, he’ll try it. He likes anything.” Once one kid wants it, all the kids want it!
GFR: Now, you told me of a rather novel (and amusing) story about introducing your child to a wide variety of meats… I’d love you to tell our readers about that?
KP: When my son was around 11 or 12, he was starting to limit his palate and become more picky in his food choices. I went shopping for a variety of meats… rack of lamb, pork chops, veal chops, New York strip steak, chicken breast, sausages, etc. I seasoned and bbq’d all of the different cuts of meat and asked him to try just 1 bite of everything to determine what he did and did not like. The rule was, he was to put 1 piece of everything on his plate and try it. What he liked the most, he could go back for second helpings.
Out of all of the choices, he enjoyed the rack of lamb the most. A few years later and a casual lunch of burgers and clubhouses, yet Zack’s choice on the menu was… yep, the rack of lamb. My experiment sort of backfired because now he enjoys the most expensive items on any menu!
GFR: And do you think that your child appreciated the effort that you put into this gastronomic exercise? How did it pay off?
KP: I do believe that Zack appreciated the effort that was put into this gastronomic experiment. He has a keenly developed palate and is very adventurous in his food choices. He appreciates the development and pairing of flavours and is eager to try many different ethnic foods and restaurants. It is rewarding, not only as a Chef but also as a father, to see someone who can be adventurous and enjoy all of the wonderful foods and flavours that this world has to offer.
GFR: Chef, thanks for your time with this.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he thinks he’s going to give this a shot.