The demanding life of a chef can be tough on families even in the best of times. During the coronavirus pandemic, when most chefs were forced to reckon with a once-in-a-century business challenge, some faced another conundrum experienced by every other working parent: what to do about childcare.
With schools, most day cares and a majority of public spaces shut down, parents everywhere have struggled with balancing their professional lives and parenting duties. For some, it has also been a blessing in disguise, allowing them to spend more time than ever with their kids.
For several Atlanta chefs, the quarantine period allowed them to cook regularly cook at home for the first time in years. Alternately, with so many restaurants closing dining rooms but serving takeout, it has given some chefs the opportunity to bring their children to work.
With so much time together, these chefs have cooked more than ever for the most ruthless critics around: their own kids. With an eye towards Father’s Day, several chef dads have shared stories of cooking for their kids and offered a few recipes that are home runs for the whole family.
Chef Terry Koval (The Deer and the Dove, B-Side)
When chef Terry Koval participated in a 2018 Slow Food Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy, he returned to Atlanta infatuated with one simple dish: tagliatelle with fresh tomatoes, sausage, basil and Parmesan.
“I came back and made it every single week at home,” he said. His wife, Jenn, loved the pasta dish. So did his kids, Olivia and Jackson. The family favorite was such a success that the Kovals put it on the menu when their restaurant, The Deer and the Dove, debuted last year in Decatur Square. That same pasta dish is back on the menu, just in time for the restaurant’s one-year anniversary.
While Terry Koval may be the one in charge of tagliatelle family dinner nights, Olivia, 16 and Jackson, 6, are upping their own culinary game – with a little help from Dad.
“At the beginning of the coronavirus, for the first few months, I had been making breakfast for my son every day,” said Koval. “Now, it’s to the point that he is making his own scrambled eggs. They are amazing. He’s got the French technique down,” A few months ago, he gave Olivia a tutorial in breaking down a whole chicken, he added.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Kovals have had to focus their attention on the Deer and the Dove and adjacent all-day cafe, B-Side. Olivia often babysits her brother while their parents work, but there have been family moments, even at work. Last week, Jackson was on the assembly line, putting together 300 meals for healthcare workers.
This year, the Kovals will delay their Father’s Day celebration because Dad has to work on Sunday. “We’ll probably celebrate Monday when we’re closed. In the morning, we’ll have some time,” Koval said. Maybe Jackson will even whip up scrambled eggs.
Chef Andre Gomez (Porch Light Latin Kitchen)
Andre Gomez has three children, although his spouse begs to differ. “I’m the fourth one, according to my wife,” joked the chef-owner of Porch Light Latin Kitchen.
At his Smyra restaurant, Gomez puts a spotlight on the fare of his native Puerto Rico. The food of his heritage has since become his own kids’ favorite: beans and rice, pork chops, plantains and avocados. But especially beans and rice. “If Daddy’s cooking, that’s what they want,” Gomez said.
For Christmas last year, Andre Ryan (10), Alexander (9) and Addison Raquel (7) gave their father a present that spoke to their love of rice and beans. “They bought special bowls for me to have at the restaurant for when the come to eat there. For those bowls, it has to be rice and beans,” Gomez said.
Gomez became emotional as he explained the significance of his children’s gift to him: his children had formed a cultural connection with their Puerto Rican heritage through food. “I am so far away from home. They don’t get – other than at home or at the restaurant – to eat the Puerto Rican food I grew up with.”
Addison Raquel eats from her dedicated bowl often. “During this whole corona bananas, my daughter comes to the restaurant to help. Every time she works, she says, ‘Where’s my rice and beans?’ That’s how they get paid: in rice and beans,” he said.
Chef Ron Hsu (Lazy Betty)
Chef Ron Hsu’s daughter Calliope is just shy of 2 years old, but the toddler already has a sophisticated palate.
Hsu, owner and chef at Lazy Betty in Candler Park, and his wife steered clear of the often bland vegetable purees given to babies when they first start solid foods and quickly started feeding their daughter whatever they ate.
The result? A kid who has bypassed the almost universal picky phase.
“She’s willing to try anything,” Hsu said.
That means gourmet dishes like pizza -- a favorite of Calliope’s -- made with homemade dough and topped with clams or braised collard greens and pork roast with a tamarind laquer are often on the menu.
Calliope doesn’t just like trying the things her parents make -- she also likes getting in on the action.
Hsu often cooks with his daughter strapped to him in a carrier so she can see what’s going on, and he’ll give her small tasks so she can “help”, from squeezing the lemon over the clam pizza to sprinkling salt into soup or stews.
“She loves to get involved,” he said. “She sees us cleaning up, so she’ll make a little mess (on purpose) and then grab a towel because she thinks that’s the routine.”
Hsu, whose parents operated several Chinese restaurants when he was growing up, said he enjoys having sit down meals with his family that were more of a rarity when he was growing up. One family tradition he’s passed along is a love of fried rice, a dish his parents made for him and their siblings as kids.
“She asks for it every morning,” he said.
He doesn’t always give in, but admits it’s a good way to sneak some vegetables in to his baby gourmand’s diet.
Chef Willie Griggie (Hattie Marie’s Texas Style BBQ & Cajun Kitchen)
Hattie Marie's Texas Style BBQ & Cajun Kitchen chef and co-owner Willie Griggie III’s number one fan is his 14-year-old daughter, Kennedy Marie Griggie.
“She’s a daddy’s girl at heart,” he said. He recounted Kennedy’s welcome wagon when he and wife Ramona recently returned from a trip. “We pulled into the garage. She ran to the car door, waited for me to open the door, jumped on me, hugged me and kissed me.”
Kennedy’s love for her father extends to his cooking, too. “She thinks he’s the best cook ever. She thinks his cooking is better than mine,” said Ramona Griggie.
“She is a lobster fanatic,” said her father. “Broiled lobster, lobster tails, lobster mac and cheese….And tomahawk steaks – she loves those. She has a high-end palate.”
Father’s Day might be his day, but that menu will feature stuffed lobster tails to please Kennedy, he said.
She’s not the one preparing lobster just yet, but her dad is watching as his daughter learns her way around a kitchen. “She just started cooking recently. She’ll prepare starter dishes: scrambled eggs, waffles, spaghetti.”
It’s too early to know whether Kennedy will follow her father’s culinary path. “She is a true teen. She does not want to be at the restaurant. She wants to be on the phone and Facetime with her friends,” he said.
Shortly after the interview, he texted a note. “Kennedy wanted me to let you know that she did work at the restaurant recently. We gave away 450 meals to the graduating class at Westlake High School and she came in and assisted. I have to give my baby girl her credit!!”
That same day, Kennedy woke up early to record a video to give her own dad a bit of credit, too.
Like father, like daughter.
Chef Takashi Otsuka (Chirori, Wagaya)
Though he admits the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been easy, especially for a single dad, chef Takashi Otsuka has enjoyed spending extra time with his five-year-old daughter, Julia, who he calls Juju. He cares for her three days a week and she often accompanies him to the restaurant because, unlike many others in town, Wagaya was already set up for steady takeout business. As a result, “I’m probably not cooking as much at home as I should,” said Otsuka.
Despite that, Otsuka readily names Julia’s favorite foods. “She’s such an Asian kid,” said Otsuka, laughing as he listed her top three dishes: teriyaki chicken, miso soup and rice.
Otsuka also has a secret weapon - a dish that he and his daughter enjoy making together. “It’s called a Japanese hamburger,” he said, “it’s a beef patty with a demi-glace sauce.” The patties have a few more ingredients than a typical American hamburger, and it gets a shot of Japanese flavor from soy sauce, ponzu, mirin and sake.
“It’s fun because you make the patties with your kids,” said Otsuka. “It’s a good ‘together’ activity because it’s cooking but you’re not letting them go straight to the fire. It’s also something that I used to eat when I was a kid.”
With kindergarten looming for Julia and Wagaya slowly adapting to post-quarantine dining, this spring has been an opportunity for father and daughter to spend an unusual amount of time together. Otsuka, who converted the Chirori space into a Japanese grocery store, said that he will likely move his retail operation to Wagaya’s lower level. Then, he can use Chirori’s space adjacent to the more casual Wagaya to seat additional diners with proper social distancing. It’s going to be a busy summer for him, but he’ll be doing his best for Julia. “I’m trying to teach her some things and make her study,” he said. “But it’s been a challenge, for sure.”
Despite the challenges, father and daughter have enjoyed more time together and Otsuka said he was excited to share their Japanese hamburger recipe. “It’s good to show people that Japanese food is more than sushi and ramen,” he said with a laugh.
Chef Drew Belline (No. 246)
Whether he’s cooking with his kids at home or running the kitchen at No. 246 in Decatur, chef Drew Belline uses the same approach – focusing on making simple but delicious food.
The most recent cooking projects he’s tackled with his daughters Madeline, 13, and Kiley, 9, involve the output from the eight chickens that live in their backyard.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on egg cookery,” he said, including omlettes and frittatas, supplemented with herbs from their herb garden.
Belline, who grew up on a small farm property in North Fulton County before it became more developed, said learning to cook was a big part of his childhood that he was eager to pass on to his kids.
“I love having them involved,” he said. “It’s important that they learn how to cook, and it’s a great way to spend time with them.”
Even better when he can teach two lessons in one go, like when he helps them perfect cooking with eggs while also explaining the difference between store bought and farm fresh eggs.
“The connection to where our food comes from is so important, and it’s something a lot of people miss out on,” he said. “I want them to know that not all of our food comes from the produce aisle at Publix.”
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