When you're a chef-mom, how do you think your kids will rebel?
By Leslie Bilderback 06/01/2012
My experience as a mom has been riddled with disappointment. Not because my kids are brats, but because my own expectations have been consistently too high. You see, I have never been just a mom. I am a chef-mom. Serving frozen waffles or blue-boxed macaroni and cheese is simply not something I condone. But, as I have learned, the hard truth of adulthood is that things don’t always go according to plan.
My gastronomical standards have always been unrealistically high, and their reach extends far beyond the professional kitchen (regardless of how long it has been since I’ve actually set foot in a professional kitchen). So, when my first daughter was born, I quite naturally intended to nourish her with only the best. It began with an attempt at homemade baby food, which I now recognize as the initial stage of my maternal delusions. It was, I discovered, not easy, pleasurable or beneficial to cook, purée and strain butternut squash on two hours of sleep, only to have that little tongue push it right out onto her bib. That was lesson one.
Lesson two came later, after playdates under the supervision of other moms who, through no fault of their own, cared little about the culinary validity of SpaghettiOs, inciting a newfound desire for food in “fun shapes.” Further hopes of a childhood filled with exotic foods-of-the-world crashed and burned in rapid succession as she spat, flung or puked away each attempt at a culturally diverse dinner table. Like everyone else’s, our bill of fare soon shifted from pad Thai and paella to hot dogs and buttered noodles. As she got older and gained a sibling, we required that she set a good example and at least try new foods. Some of them stuck, but some of them (most of them) didn't.
Eventually she developed a string of food idiosyncrasies, beginning with her insistence that the foods on her plate not touch. I know this exists in other children, as I have seen special plates with divided sections intended to avoid just that dread contamination. But this foible manifested itself not only on the plate, but also during preparation. For instance, I have never been able to feed her a stew. “If the ingredients all float around in the pot together, they are touching!” (That shows advanced reasoning, don’t you think?) Next she developed her own perceptions of what constitutes food generally. Soup, for instance, is a liquid and therefore a drink and should not taste like meat or vegetables.
(Disclaimer: She is not the only member of the family with weird food fetishes. Her sister, for instance, hates fruit. She will, however, eat raisins, because when she was little she didn’t believe me when I insisted they were fruit---despite my credentials. My husband has strange food preferences too, although I think he just asserts them to annoy me.)
It didn’t take long for her to figure out that I was disappointed in her lack of cuisine courage, and she quickly gave up any and all pretense of epicurean exploration. Though, to her credit, she and her sister did once collude with a French waiter to secretly order escargots. They did it just for my reaction, and after one-wrinkly nosed bite and the visible indication of my approval, they handed over their plates to their dad and me. But it was a nice gesture that has never been forgotten (and often recounted, especially when they are refusing to try something new, as they still occasionally do).
She has, on occasion, tried to disguise her disdain for food and eating by attempting to cook. The early efforts were more assemblage than cooking, ice cream sundaes and Fluffernutter sandwiches being her specialties. In middle school she discovered chocolate fondue, and it became her go-to potluck item. Recently she discovered the joys of baking with food coloring (although the concept of clean-as-you-go still eludes her).
It doesn’t bother me that she has no real interest in cooking, and I am not surprised that she shuns my expertise. It's natural to rebel, and it’s certainly not easy to take lessons from a parent. After all, what kid enjoys a parent’s driving lesson? (“Brake...BRAKE!”) Her friends occasionally solicit advice from me, which is enough to keep my ego intact. I am actually glad she has found other things that turn her on. Her interest in Star Wars and Shakespeare is certainly more interesting than my incessant blabbering on about the derivatives of béchamel sauce or the history of the blood orange. She can feed herself (when she remembers), which is all I care about. (Although, a gentle reminder to drain the macaroni before the “cheese” packet is added never hurts.)
Now my über-finicky eater is about to don cap and gown and all too soon head off to college, where she will eat dorm food and be free of my gastro-expectations forevermore. She has always marched to her own drummer, both in the kitchen and in the world, which, as it turns out, has been her strength. She has grown into a bright, confident, interesting young woman despite her disdain for head cheese and sea urchin. So I suppose I can mark down the first one as a success. If I play my cards right, she might call someday and ask me for a recipe.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. A South Pasadena resident, she teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.