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Cooking with kids is easy when you have fun ‘uncle’ | Carolyn Ossorio
The blade came into view like a version of Excalibur - forged by an Avalonian elf and blessed with dragon’s breath - as the Chef’s knife easily sliced through the flesh of the slippery rainbow trout skin.
The Palace Kitchen was our Camelot.
And Chef Tom Douglas was our culinary king.
It was an early Tuesday morning and the popular Palace Kitchen restaurant in downtown Seattle was empty. Inside chairs were still upside down on their tables and the place was filled with the kind of quiet that greets you when visiting a school that’s out of session.
But inside the kitchen was alive.
The massive ovens emanated heat and there stood the heart of the place was waiting for us was Chef Tom wearing a smile.
Amelia lugged over the rainbow trout packed on ice since the night before when Amelia and Sophie caught the behemoth with the help of Bill Briere especially for the occasion at Renton’s own Springbrook Trout Farm (which by the way opened this past Saturday for another fun-filled season).
“Do you know how much this fish weighs?” Chef Tom asked the girls lifting it to the cutting board. His signature fluffy hair pleasantly fluffed.
“Seven and one-half pounds!” Sophie my 11-year-old trumpeted as if we were the only kings in the castle (and in fact we were, aside from Chef Tom, his lovely assistant Jessica and a couple of camera men who were filming the segment for a cooking-with-kids web series).
Chef Tom demonstrated how to pluck “pin bones” from the trout.
“Your turn,” Chef Tom says, offering Sophie Excalibur.
At times Sophie can be shy, but when it comes to the kitchen there is no fear - and she takes hold of the knife as easily as young King Arthur pulls the sword from the stone - it is her destiny.
Every month Chef Tom Douglas is named “Top” something or other. Top Chef, Top Restaurateur. And this month he was named No. 1 most influential Seattle person by a popular Seattle Magazine. Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks, was listed as number two.
Watching Chef Tom teach the girls how to cook it is easy to understand his popularity: he’s like a fun uncle who just happens to be famous. Gregarious, easy going and yet he believes in the importance of cooking with kids.
Everybody has heard the term “comfort food.” Which is food that makes us feel comforted when we eat it. Marketing gurus have long exploited the research that our impulses or what drives us are often subconscious and established at a young age through learning and emotion: The stronger the emotion, the more clearly an experience is learned.
According to one of my favorite books, “The Culture Code” by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille about why “we humans do what we do.”
“The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion create something known widely (and coined as such by Konrad Lorenz) as an imprint. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of these imprints defines us.”
Cooking with kids is important to me because one of my most memorable personal imprints came after my parents divorced. When I was with my mom (a former vegan), I had a lot of happy memories eating healthy food. When I was with my dad for summers (a Wonderbread and bologna kind of a guy), I had happy memories eating Twinkies and watching the movie Rocky.
I believe those experiences left a “food imprint” on me that has left me confused about healthy eating and “comfort food” my whole life.
Sophie methodically slices the trout into fillets. Amelia wears a beaming smile and shy pride when Chef Tom compliments her on her coring and slicing of two Pink Lady apples.
“The potatoes are from Prosser Farm,” Chef Tom says, as each of us cuts the imperfectly perfect Yukon Gold potatoes that came from his garden.
Amelia opens up the oven hatch and carefully slides a few skinny apple wood logs onto the flame. Chef Tom scratches at the grill grates with a long brush.
Brushed with olive oil and daintily dusted with salt and pepper the Rainbow trout fillets, Romaine hearts, slices of Yukon Gold potatoes and Pink Lady apples are lined up over the flame.
The restaurant is infused with the flavors of our meal. Sweetness from the Pink Ladies as the natural sugars bubble to the surface, the savory rainbow trout is grilled to perfection and tastes as I imagine Huckleberry Finn’s catch sitting next to the Mississippi over an open camp fire.
“That trout didn’t stand a chance,” Chef Tom teases Sophie and Amelia as we all look down at our cleaned plates.
He’s right, that trout didn’t stand a chance.
Unbelievable simple and totally kid-friendly. We didn’t even use dressing on the grilled Romaine the girls just squeezed lemon.
I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.