Kid-approved! A cookbook of the fail-safe recipes Canada's chefs use to win over their toughest critics: kids.
Feeding kids can often feel like climbing a mountain, and sometimes like an endless series of rejections and failures. With picky eating preferences changing at every turn, meals that were a mainstay one week are inexplicably pushed aside when they hit the table the next. Because kids don't care about what they’re serving at the new It Restaurant, the food fads of the year or how long you spend in the kitchen—either they like what they're eating ... or they’ll let you know about it! But surely chefs, with all of their accolades, awards and years of experience don't go through this too ... do they? What food writer Joanna Fox discovered might surprise you. It turns out we’re all in the same boat, even Canada’s top culinary professionals from coast to coast.
Inside Little Critics, you'll find out how our top chefs please even the most suspicious, judgmental or fastidious of early eaters, with recipes including Jeremy Charles’s go-to stew, Suzanne Barr’s Cauliflower Cheese Bake, Susur Lee’s favourite childhood chicken, Danny Smiles’s Italian family dinner, Dyan Solomon’s Green Hulk Risotto, Vikram Vij’s Butter Chicken Schnitzel, Ryusuke Nakagawa’s Cheesy Chicken Katsu, Billy Alexander’s Frybread Stuffed Pizza, Chuck Hughes’s Pappardelle Pesto and Michael Smith’s showstopper pancakes, Tara O’Brady’s hearty oat waffles, and Anna Olson’s Gourmet Goo Skillet Brownies.
Little Critics is chock-full of ideas for every kind of meal, with easy-to-follow recipes for breakfast and brunch; vegetarian, fish and meat mains; soups, snacks and sides; and desserts and drinks too. With food this good, even the adults will be asking for more.
About the authors
Joanna Fox has a Masters Degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu school in Adelaide, South Australia. She currently lives in Montreal where she is a freelance writer.
Excerpt: Little Critics: What Canadian Chefs Cook for Kids (and Kids Will Actually Eat) (by (author) Joanna Fox; foreword by Frederic Morin)
Growing up, I was a picky eater. Everything my parents put on my plate was scrutinized, prodded, poked, and moved around, and then, often, strategically made its way under the table and discreetly onto the floor. Like a lot of kids, I was a creature of habit and wanted the same things, over and over, every day. I think I had a ham sandwich on baguette with mustard every day for lunch throughout my elementary years (and I’m surprised I don’t glow in the dark from the amount of nitrates I’ve consumed). As I got older, I slowly became more adventurous, but it was only when I started to travel the world and, while travelling, worked in hospitality that I began to really broaden my horizons. There’s something about the restaurant industry and being around food and food people that pushes you to just go for it. By the time I landed a job waitressing at Joe Beef in my late 20s, the flood-gates were wide open.
A lot of the picky eaters out there tend to become the biggest lovers of food (and some just become adult picky eaters). I fell into the former category and embarked on a culinary journey that had me doing everything from food styling (which I was terrible at, for the record) to working on cooking shows, writing cookbooks, waitressing, making food guides, reviewing restaurants, and, most of all, cooking like crazy. I was that person who filled their teeny tiny apartment bathtub with ice and snow crab for dinner parties. I would make my own tortillas for 20-person taco nights and spend 3 days slow-cooking a pork shoulder. I had boundless energy for experimenting and discovering new dishes, and threw the most elaborate meals imaginable for anyone who wanted to crowd around my massive dining room table, which was always the centre piece crammed into every place I lived.
And then, one day, I had a baby. Which turned elaborate meals into me standing up while eating whatever was in the fridge, or picking up and eating what my son threw to the floor. My dinner parties fizzled when I realized I now wanted to end them well before my pre-baby-life 9 pm start times. My usual three courses turned into a panicked one-pot meal, my open invitations and “more the merrier” joie de vivre were cut off at a strict six topper, max. How did I use to do this? Where had all my energy come from? And what happened to me?
My son was actually the best thing that happened to me, besides meeting my partner, his father, years before. And eventually, as my son started to eat more food—and a variety, at that—meals became a bit more normal, I had more time to cook, and I started to make more interesting dinners, regaining energy and confidence. And my son was eating everything. I was so proud. I mean, his mother had such a developed palate, so it only made sense . . . Until one day, probably around his third birthday, he turned on me. Or rather, he turned into me. Everything was “no” or “ugh” or “yuck,” and all my usual go-tos were rejected, one by one. Eggs, pasta, chicken, cheese, fish, rice, vegetables, mashed potatoes, even French fries—nothing would stick.
And then I realized something. I had a lot of chef friends, and quite a few of them now had kids. I wondered what they were feeding their own kids and if their kids were as picky as mine. One of the amaz-ing things about children is that they have an uncanny ability to level the playing field. If Chuck Hughes’s kids were telling him their dinner “could be better,” I felt better. When Fred Morin’s son told him his food sucked, I have to admit, it made me kinda happy. Because if these top chefs weren’t able to please their kids, the pressure was way off me. All of a sudden, we were all in the same boat. The truth was, we were all at the mercy of these tough little critics.
That being said, there was always a “but.” There was always that dish, that fail-safe recipe that, no matter what, managed to please the peanut gallery. Just like when I was young there were these sweet, sticky, salty soy chicken drumsticks my mom made from an old issue of Canadian Living that I loved. And I would be so happy every time she made them, knowing I wouldn’t have to, God forbid, eat something gross. And it was the same thing for every chef I spoke to. Each one had that slam-dunk recipe that their children, or the children in their lives, would always eat—or even that they remembered eating when they were young.
So I decided to do something helpful for all the parents and care-givers out there, all the godparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and friends who ever had to cook for children. I asked some of Canada’s best culinary minds, from coast to coast to coast, what they made for the kids in their lives. And while I was at it, I also wanted to create a cookbook that would help teach children and parents about the diversity of our country and its people, and how rich and amazing our food culture really is. What better way to understand what Canada is today than through the lens of its many different recipes and culinary traditions?
All of the incredibly generous chefs in this cookbook gave me their best recipes so that you would have plenty of options come mealtime to put a smile on your kids’ faces and show them that there is so much to discover through food. And who knows, those picky eaters might surprise you with what they like—I know mine did.