How Chefs Around the World Cook with Their Kids at Home Now
Marlow’s mise was set: rice noodles, thinly sliced carrots, fresh cilantro leaves, soy sauce, and fish sauce, two limes, and brown sugar. Wearing his trademark "Coolest Monster Ever" shirt, and standing on a stool in his Paris kitchen, the sous chef was ready to prepare lunch.
He began by pouring the soy sauce into a stainless steel bowl, then looked up to ask if that was enough: "Encore?" he said, in French, meaning "more."
"Oui," said the chef.
Then, he poured some more in, followed by the sugar—making sure to get every last crystal out of the ramekin, continually asking: "Encore? Encore?"
After being encouraged to do so, he then added a pinch of salt and began whisking the sauce. Next came the carrots, which he dumped in before grabbing a fistful to munch on. Finally, he added the noodles and, eventually, topped it all with fresh coriander.
"Fini," he said. Finished.
Not quite—but also not bad for a two-and-a-half-year-old.
Son to chef Taku Sekine, of restaurants Dersou and Cheval d’Or in Paris, Marlow has been "cooking" a recipe a day since all restaurants and cafes were ordered shut last Sunday, March 14. With the help of his father, who has traded documenting his own efforts for that of Marlow’s on his Instagram page, he’s also made veggie tempura, broccoli pesto, an olive oil cake, a leek galette and custard pudding.
The video stories Sekine posts show Marlow kneading dough, cracking eggs and using tweezers to coat vegetables in batter, which often ends up all over his face. They’re insanely cute and hopeful and the exact type of content we all need right now.
Thankfully, he’s not the only chef on lockdown who’s cooking with his or her kid and posting to social media about it. Chefs around the world are beginning to replace despair with creativity. What’s more, since these chefs only spend a couple of hours with their kids on a normal day, now they’re not only training them or treating them like VIP diners, but learning more about them, too.
"Abe is tiny, so he’s not a helper," Clare de Boer, co-owner and chef at King restaurant in Manhattan, says of her six-month-old son. "But watching me cook is the only way he’ll do tummy time! He does his least complaining on the kitchen counter."
De Boer actually had a head start on isolation with her infant as she’s technically still on maternity leave; only FaceTiming in for team meetings from her Dover Plains, New York home and taking the occasional trip to the SoHo restaurant, which closed on March 16.
"I'm breastfeeding, so he’s basically attached to me 24 hours a day and a lot of those hours are spent in the kitchen," says de Boer. "I involved him from the very start. He lays there, is quiet and remains entertained. I basically do a live cooking show for him and explain every ingredient to him. He loves to watch me cook and eat. He becomes transfixed. And if he starts complaining, I flick a few carrot slices his way and he inspects them. I encourage him to explore the food."
In Milan, which shut its restaurants on March 9, chef Yoji Tokuyoshi of the Michelin-starred Ristorante Tokuyoshi, discovered his son has a peculiar way of eating tomatoes. "I am learning all his likes and dislikes," he says. "He eats tomatoes cooked with his pasta and raw with meat—always! I had no idea my son eats this much! But then again, he is also my son…”
For his part, Edo, who is almost two years old, has been helping coat fresh pasta in flour or stir-fry pancetta for carbonara, which was one of the first dishes they made together because there were so many eggs leftover at the restaurant. In fact, chef Tokuyoshi—a former sous chef for Massimo Bottura, who himself is hosting “Kitchen Quarantine” classes on IGTV—started a virtual challenge amongst his staff and followers to cook the creamy dish separately together.
“I wanted to unite and manage my team while apart,” says Tokuyoshi, who is now slicing and dicing from his 100-square-meter apartment in Milan’s Porto Genova neighborhood. “It was as entertaining as when we cook at the restaurant. We jokingly insulted each other’s dishes on WhatsApp, asked and gave advice. It has been a great proof of the strength of my team, and how much we all take our responsibility during this period seriously.”
Israeli chef Nir Mesika, who returned to Tel Aviv three months ago after eight years cooking in New York City at restaurants Timna and Zizi Limona, is also resolute and focused—specifically when it comes to making gourmet baby food for his six-and-a-half-month-old daughter Romy.
She only just started eating solids, so Mesika—who was the Culinary Director at Baraka House restaurant group until it closed on March 15 and therefore only saw her for about 20 minutes in the morning and on his day off—is now reading everything there is to know about what babies can eat.
"She has to try every ingredient three times to rule out allergies," says Mesika, "so I get creative. With beets, I started just serving them very fine. Then I ground them up with something she’d already eaten and made a mousse. You have to have an open mind. To cook vegan, dairy-free and with good texture that your baby can eat without chewing? It’s challenging!"
He doesn't just plop it in a bowl and let her have at it with a spoon, either. Mesika purposefully plates every meal—schmearing sour cream, quenelle-ing avocado mousse and crumbling hardboiled egg that he then drizzles with olive oil, which, he says, is good for digestion. Dishes like a green pea puree with tahini and slow-cooked beef are even dressed with rosemary twigs and edible flowers, rivaling any degustation menu in presentation.
They're almost too pretty to eat, but Romy's hungry. And if her reaction to his cuisine, which he documents on his Instagram feed, doesn’t satisfy or make you smile, his Dad jokes surely will. While chopping up dates for the (faux) "Salmon Benedict" he made using roasted sweet potato, Mesika proclaimed they’re "the only kind of dates we have these days!"
And we’re grateful for them.