Is Your Child the Next Great Chef?

Mario Batali, Cooking, Child, Kid

Don't worry, I'm not trying to put pressure on you! I'm a firm believer that people find their own passions. In fact, my mother would be the first to say that being a chef was the last occupation she would've ever pushed me towards for the simple fact that she has never enjoyed cooking. But she also was very encouraging when it became clear that I loved being in the kitchen, even if it meant that I spent more time in her mother's kitchen than in ours. 

Scroll to the bottom for some famous chefs who started early!

Unlike our home, my Grandmother Helga treated her house like a mini food factory--she made everything from scratch so her pantry was always filled with homemade jams made from berries she grew in her front yard, pickles and bread. (I can argue Helga was the original hipster.)

As I write in Yes, Chef: "It took me exactly seven minutes to cut across the nature preserve that abutted our property, speed down the road on the other side, and make it up the long driveway to my grandparents' house. I dumped the bike at the foot of their steps, took the stairs two at a time, and walked as fast as I could to Mormor's kitchen. She'd look at me standing there out of breath and say, 'Ah, there you are. Come. I have a job for you.' She would pull out a stool and set me to string rhubarb or shell peas or pluck a chicken. I was only too happy to have Mormor to myself."

I credit my grandmother for teaching me to love and respect food. She taught me how to waste nothing, to make sure I used every bit of the chicken and boil the bones till no flavor could be extracted from them. Being in the kitchen with her also exposed me to preserving process and tradition--she shared stories from a family I wasn't born into but was innately mine. Cooking for my father and uncle, I learned a different kind of lesson. "Marcus, if you don't cook, we don't eat," my father would joke. They were already allowing me to help with the boats when we went out fishing, but by preparing the entire dinner for them, I was eager to show I was a big man.

Children want to mimic adults. They notice when you choose to prepare fresh vegetables over calling in another pizza pie for dinner. They will see that food made with love and care outweighs going through the drive-through window. Time spent at the dining table and in the kitchen, you can talk to your children while teaching them how to take pride in making dishes with their own hands. If they're age appropriate, give them lessons on how to handle a knife or what sautéing means--these require adult supervision but they'll want to be careful and show that you can trust them. Incorporating healthy eating early on becomes engrained in these sponge-like minds, so choose to cook with whole grains and less fat when you can. Introduce your children to diverse flavors and textures and open up their palates.

I learned at a young age what chasing flavors meant and I've been doing that my whole life. As an ode to Helga, her Swedish meatball recipeis a permanent dish on the Red Rooster menu. But I'm not the only one...many of my chef friends started their culinary careers as kids and I've got the proof. I'll be sending out a photo of some of your favorite celeb chefs when they were in diapers (hint: one of them got into some bizarre foods early on) every day starting today on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+. Guess who the chef is by using @MarcusCooks and #YesChef for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of "Yes, Chef".

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