Having children doesn’t mean you’re doomed to at least 10 years of eating kid-friendly burgers and pizzas. Although many fine dining restaurants have a no-kids policy, a growing number of them have begun to welcome young diners with open arms.
Smoked eel with pea sorbet and barbecued turbot doused in fermented bell pepper sauce don’t qualify as kids’ rations, but that hasn’t stopped Rishi Naleendra from entertaining a curious child (and his beaming parents) at his uber-trendy restaurant Cloudstreet.
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Emmanuel Stroobant, chef-owner of the Michelin-starred Saint Pierre, takes it up a notch with Enfants (S$85), a seasonal tasting menu designed for children nine years and under. Little tykes are treated like every other adult guest with an exquisitely plated multi-course meal. Bonus: Lucky tots are even invited on a tour of the kitchen.
”Children can dine in Michelin-starred restaurants,” declares Tristin Farmer, executive chef of Zén. The restaurant, which recently made waves as the most opulent dining destination in Singapore, welcomes children as fellow esteemed diners.
The same goes for the one Michelin-starred Labyrinth (eight years and above) and, overseas, one Michelin-starred Qui Plume La Lune in Paris and Marcus Wareing’s – you may remember him from MasterChef: The Professionals – Tredwells over at London’s Covent Garden, among others.
Fine food for thought
”Everyone can appreciate great cuisine regardless of how old or young they are,” says Chef Naleendra, adding that ”it can be a good opportunity for children to be exposed to a variety of cuisines from a young age, broadening their horizons and palates”.
Chef-owner Han Li Guang of Labyrinth recalls tweens appreciating sophisticated dishes of souffle and the like, navigating through his elaborate mod-Sin menu with ease. Over at V-Dining, head chef Lee Jing Peng has an eight-year-old for a regular, who’s begun to explore new food items like wagyu.
Which begs the question: Could fine dining spots, where the season’s best is transformed into visually engaging masterpieces on plates, be the ideal platform for children to develop good eating habits?
Restaurateur-chef Beppe De Vito of the il Lido Group says, ”What’s important is that children should be educated on the importance of eating well and the problems with consuming chemical laden, processed foods. It’s our job, as parents and chefs, to translate what we know about good, fresh ingredients and nutrients to them.”
(RELATED: Can ‘healthy eating’ actually make you sick?)
The prevalence of junk food aside, kids’ menus are riddled with carb-heavy or processed food options. These unhealthy eating habits can easily set them off on a long-term lifestyle of bad food choices.
A 2018 study by the Ministry of Health revealed an increase in overweight children to 13 per cent in mainstream schools in 2017. Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor explained then that ”dietary habits of children are formed well before the age of five”, suggesting that healthy habits have to be instilled from young and, subsequently, sustained into adulthood.
And Chef De Vito walks the talk. Despite his busy schedule, he takes the time to whip up different dishes, showcasing different produce, to his four sons. ”It’s important not to be too forceful or negative. Let them enjoy the process and encourage them to explore.” This philosophy extends to Braci (which allows kids 12 years and up) as well as Aura (all ages).
The majority of parents, regardless of culture, are very conscious of what their children eat. A rise in allergies and dietary restrictions, particularly evident in Western countries, have spurred the need to source for quality ingredients, explains David Senia, culinary director of Capella Singapore, a veteran who’s cut his teeth at Château Eza, L’Oasis and Chantecler, to name a few.
”Children may be notoriously impartial to, say, vegetables but, as a chef, I enjoy introducing new flavours. There is a need to strike a balance between nutrition and their enjoyment,” he further explains.
Slow and steady
Easing self-professed lovers of cheeseburgers and pizzas into fine dining teeming with (to them) unusual produce is to be tackled at a patient pace, one that’s very much dependent on the parents and the people around them.
”The most important thing is that they try. It may not be today or tomorrow. But one day, they may like it. My daughter Keira has just started to enjoy mushrooms, something she’d shun in the past,” explains Chef Stroobant.
One way is to opt for the tasting menu, which, according to Chef Stroobant is a useful way to deal with picky eaters. Choices are left completely up to the chef. ”We encourage open-mindedness in kids. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” he adds.
But chances are, asking a child to sit for hours at the dining table, nary a complaint, is near impossible.
The rise of casual fine dining spots, say, Bread Street Kitchen and Basque Kitchen by Aitor, has made it much more approachable for children, allowing them to have a taste of proper dining etiquette. Aitor Jeronimo Orive, head chef of Basque Kitchen by Aitor, suggests starting with places offering an à la carte section.
Executive chef Liu Ching Hai of one Michelin-starred Summer Palace believes that it’s a constant effort that starts from home, recalling how he’d replace ingredients in a simple fried rice for his two sons with premium lap cheong from Hong Kong. ”I’m proud to say they’ve grown (now 19 and 18 years of age) to have a strong appreciation for food, sometimes even preparing their own meals. I’ve seen them not only going for adventurous items like Spicy Crocodile Meat at my restaurant, but also encourage their friends to give it a try,” he beams.
And it could very well inspire future culinary talent. Chef Orive describes, ”My earliest memories of food stemmed from watching my grandmothers of Basque descent whipping up hearty recipes in the kitchen. I learned to love and appreciate food; this continues to shape my culinary philosophy and serves as a testament to how food can have a positive influence on a young individual.”
Chef Stroobant puts it simply: ”If you don’t expose them, how will they learn?”
(RELATED: What goes into Saint Pierre’s kids’ menu?)