Kitchen professionals give tips on curbing picky-eating habits. —Whitney Pipkin
How does the executive chef at PassionFish in Reston deal with the picky-palated at his own dinner table?
“I really don’t tell her what’s in everything,” says Chris Clime, who’s only half-joking about the tactic he first used on his once-choosy wife.
For chefs who are trained at overcoming food biases in their restaurants, sometimes the hardest battles to win are on the homefront. Clime says he tries to respect the maturing, if stubborn, tastes of his three children—Dayvin, 10; Kaylie, 6; Aleena, 4—partly because they are more likely to like something if it is their idea.
“We don’t make dinner wartime,” he says, though it does come with some ground rules. Clime says he cooks dinners he likes to eat, and the kids “either eat them or they don’t.” Unlike at his day job, he doesn’t take individual orders at home.
David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, has tried similar tactics with his two sons, Kemp, 12, and Spencer, 10. Guas deployed the you-have-to-try-it mantra and a two-bite rule when his boys were younger because “I didn’t want those kids that don’t like something because of the way it looks.”
Now, when Spencer says he prefers mayonnaise to blue cheese, Guas knows it’s because he’s tried them both (or perhaps because his brother likes blue cheese but loathes what he dubs “white condiments”).
“It’s all about exposure, so I totally take credit for exposing them to as many different types of food as possible,” says Guas, who turned the entire family pro-anchovy by pairing the salty fish with a cream sauce over pasta, a dish they now eat weekly.
Guas says kids are more likely to cozy up to a new food when it’s prepared simply and, when possible, on a good, hot grill.
“Everything that I didn’t like as a kid, they like,” he says. “I can only think that it’s because of the household they are growing up in.”
Whether cooking for his kids—Theo, 9; Sasha, 6—or adults, Luc Dendievel of härth says he follows the same basic tenet: “Make it taste good.”
At the McLean Hilton restaurant, Dendievel introduced a Foodie-in-Training menu in the fall that puts those principles to work with a crispy-skinned roast chicken and pork-and-veal meatballs paired with spaghetti.
“We don’t try to reinvent the wheel here but to give them something nutritive,” says Dendievel. “We don’t do black truffles and caviar, but we do have a mac-and-cheese with truffle oil.”
Growing up in Belgium, restaurants served kids’ menus much like his, featuring real food with, he says, “no shortcuts” in cooking technique.
He says young patrons at härth often order the fish of the day over margherita pizza because they want to be adventurous when given the option.
“The first people we have to educate here is parents,” says Dendievel.