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Chef-dads & kids' menus
#02-02B One Fullerton
IT'S one thing to teach your kid about flavours by giving them a lemon, or a spoonful of sugar. But what if you could take it a step further and let them experience all the five primary flavours in existence, in just one sitting?
That's the idea behind the French restaurant Saint Pierre's five-course children's menu, named Flora and Fauna. It was created by chef-owner Emmanuel Stroobant to introduce kids not just to the different taste profiles, but also to a variety of different ingredients.
"We find more and more parents these days exposing their kids to a wide variety of food from young, and these kids tend to eat what the adults eat. The children generally enjoy having a wide choice," says chef Stroobant.
The Flora and Fauna menu costs S$85++ per child, and kicks off with a "sour" appetiser of tomato sorbet, white balsamic vinegar and coriander. It moves on to an "umami" dish which features quinoa, avocado and kelp, then to the "sweet" dish comprising scallop, potato leaf and preserved truffle, followed by the "salty" dish of lobster and farmed vegetables. Finally, the meal rounds off on a "bitter" note, with a dessert of dark chocolate mousse and roasted nuts.
On first glance, it may sound a bit unthinkable for a child to be able to sit through an entire five-course meal, but over the years, chef Stroobant has observed that parents who take their kids out to fine-dining restaurants in the first place would have already taught them a certain degree of table manners. The number is small, of course, as he sees roughly only one family at his restaurant per week.
Still, he believes that "kids should be introduced to the ritual of dining from young, which means eating together, being exposed to a wide variety of food, and using glassware, chinaware and cutlery." So while the Flora and Fauna menu was only introduced at Saint Pierre after the restaurant moved to its current home at One Fullerton this March, it has always welcomed kids.
However, one area in which chef Stroobant will not yield is when parents request for unhealthy dishes such as burgers or fish and chips are made for their kids. Instead, he offers a healthier dish such as pasta, or a chicken or fish off Saint Pierre's a la carte menu.
At home, he has the same philosophy about feeding his kids healthy food. Even though he doesn't always get to personally cook for his two daughters Mia, 4, and Keira, 7, chef Stroobant makes sure that dishes are not made with processed food, and that all meals are prepared from scratch.
"We are not saying that kids should eat more vegetables, less meat, and only organic produce, and no burgers - instead we are saying do not eat processed burgers. Make your patties or buns from scratch, using natural ingredients and seasoning, and absolutely no pre-mixes. Eating well may cost more, but we always feel it is better to pay more upfront for better quality food, then to pay later on healthcare," he says.
FINER THINGS IN LIFE
34 Tras Street
AS the chef of Italian restaurant Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare, Lino Sauro spends most days cooking for complete strangers. Once a week however, he gets to spend some time cooking for (and alongside) two of his favourite people - his young sons Noah and Liam.
Whether it's baking a cake, making flan, or rolling pasta dough, they're all activities that his older son, three-year-old Noah, especially enjoys. As for Liam, "he loves to join in, but it gets so messy because he puts his hands everywhere. Whatever his big brother does, he just has to repeat it", says chef Sauro fondly of his 22-month-old.
These sugary treats aren't a common affair though, as chef Sauro and his wife believe in being careful with what they feed their kids. In fact, they made sure their sons' food had no salt or sugar up till the age of one.
"We also made sure we never add too many ingredients or flavours together so they experience pure flavours. Today, they have developed such a clean palate and pure taste buds, which we believe has helped them enjoy the flavours of food a lot more," says chef Sauro.
Even at his restaurant, though he doesn't carry a full children's menu for practical reasons - he doesn't get enough kids to justify storing the extra ingredients - chef Sauro has over the years come up with ways to adapt a number of his existing dishes for kids.
For instance, one of his signatures at the restaurant is a risone pasta with braised octopus and bone marrow (S$34), but for children he prepares this simply with tomato sauce at S$12. Other favourites among young customers are a chicken milanese and fish milanese (S$14-16).
"The flavours for kids tend to be more straightforward, such as tomato sauce, or cheese. Adults appreciate more sophisticated ingredients, such as sea urchin, gambero rosso (red shrimp). Of course, we also see more and more kids who follow in their parents' footsteps and are increasingly exposed to the finer things in life," he says.
At the same time, chef Sauro points out that it's not just eating well that kids need to learn to do. Instead, they should also be exposed to the idea of provenance - something a lot of young Singaporeans do not understand.
"I grew up in a farm and I knew about the cycle of food - like I would pick eggs that were warm because I knew they were freshly laid by the hens. Unfortunately, kids these days don't know so much about the topic of food," says the chef.
That's why cooking together as a family isn't just a bonding exercise, it works as an educational experience as well. He says: "Try engaging your children from the beginning, from shopping for ingredients, so they know how the original ingredient looks like."
By Rachel Loi
FLAVOURS & TEXTURES
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
HOW many people can tell the difference between iberico pork and regular off-the-shelf pork, simply by tasting it? Probably not many. Except for Leilani Pasinato, who is just two years and nine months, who shocked her chef father Oscar by turning up her nose at the latter.
He recalls that it happened one day when he made pork milanese for her using regular Indonesian pork from the supermarket, instead of the iberico pork he usually gets from his restaurant. After tasting the dish, Leilani commented that it was tougher than usual.
"It's hard to say if it's just by luck that she says these things, or if she really means it," says a grinning chef Pasinato, who runs the Italian-Asian restaurant Buko Nero. "But it's quite impressive if she actually knows what she's saying, because a lot of it makes sense."
Between him and his wife Tracy, they make sure to cook for their daughter every day to ensure she gets a nutritious, balanced diet as much as possible, while trying to expose her to all kinds of flavours and textures.
"We try to give her pasta one day, then rice the next day, then maybe a piece of fish, then noodles, a piece of chicken - something different every day. While we cannot control what they give her to eat at school, at least one of the meals is substantial with good, fresh ingredients," says the chef.
While he doesn't have a fixed kids menu at his 20-seater restaurant in Tanjong Pagar, ever since he had a kid of his own, chef Pasinato has made it a point to have the right ingredients available to customise dishes for his younger customers based on what he would serve his own daughter.
"We try to cater for children but we want to cater also healthier kind of food not the general fried stuff served with ketchup. We've never done french fries, for example," he says.
One such dish is their healthier, modified version of the chicken nugget. It is made with a boneless and skinless piece of chicken thigh meat, fried in clarified butter instead of cooking oil, and served with mashed potatoes (S$24). On some occasions, he serves it in a soft steamed bun (S$22 for two buns) with lettuce, tomato, and a secret homemade sauce. And for dessert, instead of always serving ice creams or chocolate cake, they have the option of complimentary ice lollies made using fresh fruit purees - usually peach, apple, or pear.
"I think you always have to make simple food for your child, and make it fun for them. You havE to know what they like or don't like and you have to listen because after a certain age they have a mind of their own," says chef Pasinato.
"For me personally, if I want to introduce something to my daughter I always show it to her first, then I prepare something with it. That way, she also learns to recognise what a carrot, broccoli, or tomato looks like and it's a bit more fun for her. It may not work for every parent, of course, but it works for me."
By Rachel Loi
Open Farm Community
130E Minden Road
CHEF Ryan Clift feeds his two little ones caviar and truffles, and they love it. That's not (just) because he's a Tiger dad who's already priming their palates for future careers as top chefs; rather, he's a firm believer that children should eat everything - provided that the food is prepared cleanly from fresh produce, of course.
"There is a massive epidemic of families and children that go for the easy option; essentially, young kids are brought up on junk food, and that makes them fussy eaters," says chef Clift, sounding very much like Singapore's answer to Jamie Oliver. "You have to introduce them to fresh produce from day one, and get them to understand what they are eating and where it comes from, otherwise we'll be raising generations of unhealthy, obese children."
That's why he's on a crusade to educate families and kids. At Open Farm Community (OFC) - his family-friendly restaurant at Dempsey - the chef offers healthier and tastier options with the "Little Diners" menu. "When I take my kids to different restaurants, I don't really appreciate the idea of choosing from the same options such as fish and chips, nuggets and the likes," explains chef Clift, so he's making a change with his own eatery.
Expect items like a baby Caesar salad with poached chicken breast (S$17), pastas such as an open-faced lasagna with bolognese and bechamel sauce (S$23), or even a rustic fish pie (S$19). Some dishes come with fancy smears and delicate garnishing, but chef Clift assures us it's all approachable fare, with many ingredients sourced from local producers or plucked from OFC's own urban farms. "The tableware and such may make our dishes look fancy, but the food itself is the most natural form of cooking; it's rustic, garden-to-table food."
However, chef Clift's efforts at educating tots stretch beyond the dining table - for him, it's also important to learn about food, particularly "the role it plays in our ecosystem, one that is saturated with processed ingredients, imported produce, and unsustainable farming practices," he says.
So once a month, the venue hosts a farmers' market to showcase the produce of local farmers. OFC's gardeners (who tend to the on-site farm) also hold regular education and training courses, while the chefs conduct workshops in the garden about herbs, fruits and vegetables that can be cultivated in Singapore.
"We want children to roam the gardens freely, touching and even tasting the herbs and vegetation, and for them to experience an urban farm," adds chef Clift.
There's also a sandpit playground with slides and structures flown in from Denmark. "Sandpits may be messy, but we want children to spend time in the outdoors digging in the sand and enjoying themselves, away from modern gadgets," says chef Clift. Other outdoor attractions include facilities for lawn bowling and table tennis.
"As a chef, I take pride in cooking fresh, wholesome meals at home too," adds chef Clift, "and I would encourage parents to take the time amidst their busy schedules to think about the food they give to their children."
But if his recent observations are anything to go by, parents these days are far more mindful of what they feed their kids. "Children of this generation have more discerning palates," observes chef Clift. "I see kids enjoying the 48-hour Barolo-braised oxtail strozzapreti here, and that's wonderful!"
By Tan Teck Heng
ADAPTING TO KIDS
1 The Knolls, Sentosa Island
LONG hours are a given when one is a chef, but Lee Hiu Ngai compensates on holidays by cooking all three meals for both his kids: sandwiches for breakfast, and Chinese home-style fare for lunch and dinner. "Of course, my kids prefer McDonald's," laughs the Hong Kong-born chef, "but we limit fast food to once a week."
Getting kids to eat healthily is an uphill task, he admits, but this executive Chinese chef of Cassia restaurant at Capella Singapore has had plenty of experience - he cooks for children both on and off the job. A third of Cassia's clientele comprises families with children, so the modern Cantonese restaurant takes pains to adapt their dishes for kids. "Children have different intolerances; some are allergic to eggs or seafood. Our kitchen customises the dishes as far as possible - we can mince ingredients finely, cook meats further so they are more tender, and add less salt," he says.
Dim sum in particular is popular with families, especially the steamed char siew buns (S$5 for two) made with Kurobuta pork and black truffles, or the steamed har gau with bamboo shoots (S$5 for two). Their steamed siew mai (S$10 for two) is topped with sea urchin, and a surprise hit with kids. "The sea urchin is steamed with the dumplings and partly cooked, and children seem to love its natural silkiness and sweetness," observes chef Lee.
The restaurant even offers gluten-free options. "Cooking gluten-free dishes for kids is more challenging, but we generally blanch vegetables and mushrooms, or serve steamed fish like Chilean sea bass with light soya sauce - they are still complete dishes," he says.
And if you're looking for more hands-on activities, Capella has a 14-seater Chef's Table, suitable for dim sum-making workshops and dinner with chef Lee at the helm, or other customised classes and dining experiences at around S$3,500.
Chef Lee has even adapted some of Cassia's dishes for his two young ones. For instance, a steamed egg dish can be done savoury with minced meats, or served as a sweet dish with milk mixed in. Another example is the minced tofu and prawns omelette, fried lightly with a touch of oil.
This health-conscious father also insists that his kids make a habit of drinking plain water regularly. "You have to start from young - a glass when they wake up, and at intervals; they have to drink water before even thinking about fizzy drinks!" he says.
Sometimes, his nine-year-old daughter helps with the cooking by beating the eggs for an omelette. "She even uses a small knife to help with the chopping, and she likes drawing too; my son prefers soccer," says chef Lee.
"In Hong Kong, both parents are typically working, with grandparents helping to look after kids and cooking their meals. Otherwise, families eat out very often," he observes. "It's similar in Singapore, so it's important to look to our children's nutritional needs despite our busy schedules."