Toronto chefs share secrets on pleasing their littlest critics

For years, food writer Joanna Fox’s son was happy to eat just about anything. Then, one day, the three-year-old just… stopped. No potatoes. Not paste. No eggs.

“I wondered if it was my cooking,” Fox says. “So I started to ask chef friends if they had the same experience with their kids, or the kids in their lives. As it turns out, they did.”

It turns out that each of her friends had a kid-proof recipe or two in their arsenal to please even the pickiest eater—and Fox has collected them in a new cookbook, “Little Critics: What Canadian Chefs Cook for Kids (and Kids Will Actually Eat).”

Chef Susur Lee, for one, contributed My Favorite Childhood Chicken, a family dish he loved as a child. “It’s important to introduce kids to new foods to teach them to have an open mind. You have to grow their palates,” he says. “I’ve noticed that most kids don’t want to be tested. I think it’s best to let them try new things with no pressure. Education is the main goal.”

Seven-year-old Myles Cristian Barr-Karagiannis has been getting an education in plant-forward comfort-food dishes from his mother, chef Suzanne Barr, who found a fun way to sneak veggies into her kid. The inaugural chef-in-residence at the Gladstone Hotel and author of “My Ackee Tree: A Chef’s Memoir of Finding a Home in the Kitchen” contributed a Cauliflower Mac & Cheese recipe to the cookbook.

“When I was making it, Myles kept saying, ‘Mummy, what happened to the cauliflower in the pot?’” Barr says. “It wasn’t until I served him the dish that he took his first bite of it and was like, ‘This is good — oh, there’s the cauliflower!’ Kids can love veggies, too. Finding more ways to show versatility and flexibility can help change our kids from saying, ‘I do not like vegetables.’” Her de ella other dish in the book also puts a new spin on a cozy classic: Ramen Carbonara. This one also got the thumbs-up from her son de ella: “I like the slurpy feel and sweet and salty noodles and the crispy bacon.”

Maha Barsoom with her family.

A rave review from a kid can feel like the ultimate praise, even for the most well-regarded chefs. Maha Barsoom, of Maha’s Brunch, included a Cucumber & Yogurt Salad to “Little Critics” which had her then-18-month-old daughter in the bowl face-first. “It is very exciting to create a dish that resonates with little ones, especially if it is homemade and healthy,” Barsoom says, “because you want to build their bodies and make the process of food or meal-gathering an enjoyable experience of love .”

Barsoom, like many of the chefs in “Little Critics,” got the recipe handed down to her from her parents. Serving fun traditional dishes is an easy way to help forge the adventurous eaters of tomorrow.

TV personality Michelle Jobin, for example, contributed her recipe for Dan Bing, a savoury, crepe-like flatbread wrapped around scrambled eggs and topped with soy sauce that hails from Taiwan, where her husband is from. Jobin loves the versatility of the dish, given how easily it can be customized with different seasonings and add-ons. It’s important to expose kids to different kinds of cool food when young, she says, “mostly because I want to instill an appreciation for food. If kids can see different foods as being cool, it can open up so many doors for them in other areas of life.” Her seven-year-old Archer Wong’s only feedback on the Dan Bing? “More I am willow!”

Chef and “Cityline” expert Raquel Fox (no relation to Joanna), the author of “Dining in Paradise: A Food Lover’s Dream of Family-Style Dining in the Bahamas,” remembers a piece of advice she got from her mother-in- law: “Children can be conditioned to have a refined palate when parents lead by example.” She has led the charge in her home de ella by serving complex, delicious heritage dishes like Chicken Souse, a lime-based chicken soup with earthy allspice berries, which is included in “Little Critics.”

“Chicken Souse is one of those recipes that my grandmother cooked religiously as a medicinal feel-good bowl of soup,” she says. She fed it to her children de ella growing up, and now 12-year-old de ella family friend, Tayden Guiste, has become a big fan. “It smells really good!” Guiste says. “It kind of looks like a traditional chicken soup but exceeded my expectations with all the varieties of flavours.”

Nuit Regular, executive chef and co-owner of PAI, Kiin, By Chef Nuit and Sukhothai, and executive chef of Selva, also contributed a traditional fave to the cookbook: Mango Sticky Rice — but with a twist Canadian children will likely love. “This version of my recipe pays homage to both Thailand and Canada,” she says. “In Thailand, we typically sweeten this dish using coconut or cane sugar, but I’ve opted to use maple syrup instead.” Marlee Regular, her 15-year-old daughter, likes the balance of flavors. “The sweetness of the mango and the chewy texture of the sticky rice is such an amazing combination,” she says. Best of all? “It’s from my mom’s Thai culture, so it really connects me to her when we make it and eat it together.”


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