You know the feeling: you’ve created a delicious, wholesome meal for your little one, you call them to the table, put their plate down in front of them and they turn up their nose and push it away with a cry of, ‘Yuk!’
No, your cooking doesn’t stink. In fact, you’re in good company. Even chef Yiannis Baxevanis, a celebrity in his native Greece and chef at Elia, the Greek restaurant in the Majestic Hotel, knows how infuriating and worrying it can be dealing with a fussy eater.
‘I came face to face with the picky eater syndrome common in little children,’ the father of four says. His solution? Get them to help out.
‘I decided to get them involved in the meal preparation to open their taste horizons and make them more open to accepting different kinds of foods. When I saw how enthusiastically my children took to it, I expanded the concept to other kids.’
Chef Baxevanis now runs Little Chef cooking schools for children aged eight and above in Greece, and will show off his teaching skills at Taste of Dubai this month.
‘Kids love cooking. Once they’ve tried it once or twice it becomes a true passion,’ he says. ‘The hands-on approach is important so that they come into direct contact with the ingredients. This helps kids widen their palate and be much more open to a variety of tastes.’
Chef Baxevanis makes cooking feel more like a game. Kids in his class adore getting dressed up in all the chef gear and having a bash at using all the equipment. Plus, he says, they feel important when they’re allowed to execute the recipes like grown-ups and really cook and create something (hopefully) delicious.
‘You will have a much better success rate if your little one takes centre stage in preparing the food. If you set the scene with lots of props – chef’s hat, utensils, mixers, pestles and mortars, colourful ingredients and some fun music – any kind of food goes down well with the kids.’
You can even get the little ’uns to help choose the ingredients in the supermarket (some kids rate a trip to the Carrefour fish counter up there with a visit to the aquarium). At home, give them a few veggies and herbs to stir in a pan or bring their toy kitchen into the cooking area so they can copy you as you prepare a meal. Persevere, be patient and, says the chef who routinely flings flour at his unsuspecting pupils, don’t get hung up on the mess.
Of course, there will be dishes your child doesn’t like. Kids are only human (although we sometimes wonder), but chef Baxevanis suggests you try to make each meal an exploration of new tastes and encourage them to at least try new things. ‘I have a rule that you must taste everything. You are not then forced to eat it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. The important thing is to encourage them to try.’
Finally, don’t assume that your kids always want kiddie-type food. Chef Baxevanis thinks that’s patronising. He would gladly ban children’s menus and woe betide the unsuspecting parent who asks for a special kids’ dish for junior when dining at Elia. ‘I don’t make recipes specifically targeted at children. I believe it defeats the purpose,’ he says.
Chef Baxevanis will be hosting a cooking class at Taste of Dubai on Friday March 13 at 1.30pm and Saturday March 14 at 12.30pm. See www.tasteof dubai09.com for details. Keep your eyes peeled for Little Chef programmes at Elia, Majestic Hotel, Mankhool Road (04 501 2690; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tickle those tastebuds
This month sees the return of the award-winning foodie fest Taste of Dubai, this time with a family-friendly focus. The gastronomic event’s junior visitors are in for a real treat. Not only can they sample a range of foods from the 22 award-winning restaurants and the Marketplace with over 50 exhibitors, but they can also emulate celebrity chefs in the Kiddies’ Kitchen. With play kitchens, utensils and food supplied by the Early Learning Centre and cookies and cupcakes to transform into culinary masterpieces with Sugar Daddy’s and Sprinklez, the kids will be well catered for.
When they get tired of cooking they can move into the special chill-out zone with food-themed movies and TV programmes, enjoy the calm creative arts area or battle it out on the video games console. The Kiddies’ Kitchen will be professionally supervised and free of charge for children aged from two up to nine, allowing parents some time to relax, browse or even sign up for a session at the Spinneys Cookery School, learning a new dish under the guidance of a top chef.
Taste of Dubai ’09 runs from March 11-14 at Dubai Media City (Wed-Thu 7pm-11.30pm; Fri-Sat noon-5pm, 7pm-11.30pm). Tickets cost Dhs50-300 for adults, free for under-12s, and are available online at www.tasteofdubai09.com and www.timeouttickets.com
Have a go at these fun-to-make family favourites, suggested by chef Yiannis Baxevanis
1 large ripe fresh tomato
1 green bell pepper
1 medium onion
Greek feta cheese
Greek black olives (preferably calamata)
Salt and pepper (Optional: vinegar, mint sprigs)
Dice the tomato and cucumber. Cut the bell pepper into strips and finely slice the onion. Place it all in a large bowl. Add chunks of feta cheese and black olives. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. If you (and junior) like, add vinegar or mint sprigs.
Tip: The secret to success is the thorough mixing of the salad – an ideal job for the kids
Greek burger with homemade fries
Ingredients for the burgers
500g ground beef
1 medium onion finely chopped (by hand or in a food processor)
Salt, pepper and oregano to taste
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
½ tomato, grated
¼ loaf of day-old white bread, without crust, soaked in a little water
Few drops of white vinegar
Mix all the ingredients together and knead well with your hands. Shape into burger patties and grill or cook in a non-stick pan.
Ingredients for the fries
3 organic potatoes
Olive oil for frying
Slice the potatoes into chip shapes and boil for 10 minutes. Heat the oil until hot and shallow fry the potatoes until golden.
Chocolate fondant with ice cream
Makes 10 individual soufflés
250g dark chocolate
7 egg yolks
7 egg whites
2 tsp fine coffee powder
1 to 1½ tsp baking powder
Vanilla ice cream to serve
Melt the chocolate. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Separately beat the egg whites to make meringue. Mix the baking powder, coffee and flour, then mix the melted chocolate with the egg yolks and sugar and flour mixture. Gradually add the meringue and fold into mixture. Place in 10 individual ovenproof tall cups. Bake at 180°C for six minutes. Serve with a ball of ice cream on top.
Keep sending in your foolproof family recipes to email@example.com. Here’s a favourite from Bur Dubai mum, Emma Mercer
‘This recipe is our standby dish, because everyone enjoys it. Of course my 22-month-old son, Oliver, has days where he refuses to eat anything other than toast, cheese and peanut butter, but he usually tucks into this with gusto. It’s also a great way to sneak some veggies into his diet.’
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
2 fillets of white fish, cod or sole
2 courgettes or baby marrow peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots peeled and finely chopped
1 vegetable stock cube
5 potatoes peeled and chopped
2 tbsp of grated cheddar cheese Knob of butter and splash of milk for mashing potatoes
• Fry the onion and garlic until transparent, then add carrots and courgettes and continue to fry for couple of minutes
• Add the vegetable stock cube and enough water to just cover the vegetables; simmer for five minutes
• Add the fish, bring to the boil and simmer for a further 10 minutes
• Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes and mash with some butter and milk
• Place the fish in an oven-proof dish and cover with the mashed potatoes, sprinkle the cheese on top and place under the grill until golden
• Serve with peas or salad