Chef Mike Ward dishes about food and parenting
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef and Kin Community host Mike Ward about cooking and parenting. Mike is a daddy to 2 beautiful girls. We asked the 10 questions that you know you want to ask a chef about cooking for the kids. Find out about developing their palates without driving yourself crazy, and check out his awesome video below – who doesn’t love mash potatoes!
1. What’s more difficult being a chef or a parent?
Can I choose both? I think whether you’re a professionally trained cook or not, making meals for kids is really one of the hardest things about parenting. Being a chef you certainly get to choose the level with which you challenge yourself, that’s an option you don’t have as a parent.
So, the serious answer would have to be parenting.
2. What type of chef would you describe yourself as? What type of cooking do you prefer?
I would certainly describe myself as having a sense of humour towards cooking and food. We’re making food here, if I screw something up nobody gets killed. I think you can tell when a chef is taking them self too seriously in the food they make. I want to eat food that makes me smile, not serious dishes that are designed to technically impress and leave me in awe of those that prepared them.
3. At what age do you think you can start teaching the kiddos how to cook?
I think you can teach kids about flavour combinations from the moment they can communicate. They may not have the ability to handle sharp knives or hot pans, but most of cooking is understanding and exploring flavour combinations. It doesn’t require technical prowess to make a great sandwich or salad, but there’s still much learning that can be had with such simple dishes.
4. Why do you love cooking with your children?
Most of all, they’ll typically try what they make so that’s always a good thing! It’s also enjoying the sense of achievement and enthusiasm they have when they create something. Obviously, it’s not just applicable to cooking, but cooking is something that I enjoy so it’s lovely to be able to share that with them.
5. What are your thoughts on parents who spend time packing lunches that are bento-style – cutting sandwiches with cooking cutters to get rid of the crusts for example?
I have nothing but admiration because I don’t have the patience for that.
6. How do you convert kids who are picky eaters?
I don’t believe in so much converting kids, more approaching it as a process of expansion and learning. I know hundreds of adults that will openly express their dislike for foods they’ve never tasted. When my kids were very young, they both had a terrible fear of bugs, any small bug. What I would do is create little stories around these bugs, give them a name, tell them about their family, their kids. All of a suddenly they didn’t see them as bugs, they were lovely interesting little characters. Charlotte’s Web had millions of kids falling in love with spiders – I try to do the same with food. I’ll talk about how it’s grown, its flavour, its texture. If I can remove their established expectations then at least they might try it.
7. What is your favourite dish to make for your kids?
I don’t really have a favourite. The moment I can get them to like a particular flavour or texture I’ll immediately shift it slightly try to expand their palate even more. Right now we’re having fun with salty things, I’ve got them enjoying all olives and capers. I ultimately want them to think of food as one of life’s greatest joys. It’s not about consumption for energy, it’s about exploring and celebrating.
8. What are staples/must-have ingredients that every family should have in their home?
I am often asked that question and I’ve come to the conclusion that my list changes. Obviously things like onions, garlic and spices are often used. Right now sweet potato is often on my list: perfect roasted, great for soups, even used the next day in salads. I’m also a fan of flavourful greens, arugula, watercress. And eggs.
9. How do you help children develop a diverse palate?
The truth is that some kids are just immensely fussy and there’s nothing parents can do to change it. I do believe that kids can expand their palates with exposure to different flavours and textures but they’re also ultimately little human beings with their own likes and dislikes. I do believe in giving them a range with which to choose what they want to eat, we have that as adults, they should be allowed to have that as kids.
10. What advice can you give to moms or dads who are intimated by the kitchen and rely mostly on take-out food or uber-simple dishes?
Cooking is like anything else, if you start out of the gate with lofty expectations you will fail and be disheartened. Not unlike kids, if you try cooking simple dishes within your reach, that will give you confidence to push your boundaries slightly. Before you know it I guarantee what was once a chore can become a loved pastime. Also I love encouraging people to cook for others. Even after all these years nothing brings me more joy than feeding friends and family a satisfying meal.
Chef Mike Ward began his cooking career at the bright-eyed age of 17 in Sydney, Australia. Mike never believed he would one-day prepare meals for such clientele as Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, and Nicole Kidman. He has cooked in some of Sydney’s and Toronto’s most acclaimed restaurants: Zigolini’s and The Basement in Australia; Prego Della Piazza and Shark City in Toronto, and has owned and operated several catering companies. Throughout his career Mike has also shared his passion and experience through group and private cooking lessons allowing keen home cooks to develop their skills.
In 2000 Mike produced and directed an award-winning cooking/travel/lifestyle television series that have been viewed in over 40 countries. His great love of creating food content has taken him all over the world, writing, photographing and curating recipes and food related stories for highly respected print, online and television outlets. He serves as a consult to Centennial Colleges’ culinary department, and is also involved in many charities including Dancing with Parkinson’s.