Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dining Out With Kids

Last month, Twitter was in a flitter over a Cambridge restaurant who announced that their restaurant wasn't suitable for anyone under age 14. After some backlash, the restaurant backpedalled and said that kids were okay as long as they didn't bother the other customers.

Well, the backlash got sorted out, although I am afraid that the restaurant did lose some customers in the process. But it did get me thinking about kids and dining out. What parents expect of them, what the other patrons expect of them and how a restaurant can find the fine line between providing an upscale environment for all customers while also continuing to serve the upscale customers they have who also happen to be parents.

I've been the chef in a restaurant that hears the customer complaints about the child picking his nose, staring over the seats and banging his fork on the plate and I've also been the parent who's getting dirty looks from my fellow diners. Here's my two cents:

Children are spending their entire childhood learning how to be productive, respectful adults. If we, as parents, do not take them out to eat, how can we ever expect them to instinctually know how to behave in a restaurant? That being said, did I start my kids off eating in restaurants like Verses and Pangaea? No, I spent my fair share of time in places like Oscars, Pho Dau Bo and the Stone Crock, all places that were relatively happy to participate in the civilization project of my children.

Then we moved on to places such as The Bauer Kitchen, Wildcraft, Boa Nova and Classico's. They were all restaurants with a slightly higher decibel rating that muffled the whines.

Nowadays, I don't hesitate to take my boys to any restaurant. We've dined at Verses, the 41, North 44, Nota Bene and Langdon Hall... among many others.

As parents, we know our children pretty well. If baby A has been whiny all day, throwing tantrums and generally being a meat-head... perhaps you need to re-think your dinner plans. But... we all know that our children generally behave better in public than they do at home. How many times have you said "why doesn't he do that at home?!?!"

As customers, we're paying for an experience when we go out to dine. I certainly understand what it's like to have some little brat staring at you, running around or talking about poo-poo during dinner and it's not cool... trust me, if my kids acted like that we'd be out in a split second. But as a chef, a parent and a food lover who is raising future food lovers, I ask that you be patient. If the parent is ignoring their child's behaviour then you certainly have reason to say something to your server but if the parent is trying their best, please respect that this is an education for the child that they cannot learn at home.

For restaurants, I suggest that the best way for you to advertise is not to say children aren't welcome. There are a whole lot of parents out there who would boycott your restaurant on the principle alone, even if they would never dream of bringing their own children there. If you are really against children in your restaurant, you can subtly get this message across by not offering the dreaded "children's menu" or not having high chairs. But you do need to be flexible when a child comes into your restaurant. If some of the world's best and busiest restaurants can whip up a vegan gluten free meal at the drop of a hat, it wouldn't kill you to hand bread a few chicken strips or make a plain cheese pasta. And be friendly to the kids. If the chef has time, a quick hello to the child or even a wave from the kitchen relaxes the kids and makes the experience more enjoyable. Kids are fascinated by food and the workings of a kitchen, so if they stop by the kitchen door and stare at you, dust off a couple of your show-off moves and put on a spectacle for them. If they order gelato for desert, make 3 scoops into a snowman with blueberry eyes. Kids know when they have behaved and most are smart enough to know that if they behave, they will get to enjoy the same experience again, so help them have a fun time that they will want to come back to. Remember, if you hope to be in business for a long time, these children may someday BE your customers.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Love KW

You ever heard the one about the farmer who tweeted on his Blackberry while riding in an Old Order Mennonite horse & buggy?

If you haven't, then you have unfortunately been missing out on the incredible place that Waterloo Region is.

I love where I live. Not just a little, but almost as much as I love my family. I have pride in my country, but Waterloo Region... I live and breathe it.

Waterloo Region is RICH. Not dollars and cents rich, although there's some of that floating around too, but rich in history, rich in culture, rich in innovation.

There's this little thing that can be found worldwide called the Blackberry, made by RIM. Guess where RIM is and where the Blackberry was created? Yup, you got it... Waterloo.

Waterloo has a small town/big town identity crisis going on that I wouldn't change for the world. I can be at a major shopping center sipping a Starbucks latte and 15 mins later at a Mennonite farm buying fresh eggs and bread.

We have churches that open their doors on cold winter nights so the homeless have a place to go.

We have KidsAbility, an incredible organization that serves all our children with special needs and we have the groundbreaking Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

There's a prominent Jazz Fest every summer, and the Multi-Cultural Festival, bringing together our cultural diversity.

We have farmers who tweet while driving their tractors and this guy who shows up on a google search for almost anything.

Waterloo is a place where a Social Media Breakfast of 75 people can make #smbwr trend on Twitter across Canada.

Waterloo Region is the place where you can find a group of 10-12 people feeding, clothing and loving our areas less fortunate folks every Tuesday night.

Waterloo is home to a Farmers' Market that rivals any market in north America, and all the food is grown right in our own backyard.

Waterloo has a crazy baker who runs around town passing out FoodLove, just because.

We have a bible college, a community college, a pharmacy school and we're only an hour away from the largest city in Canada.

Waterloo is a small enough town that I run into someone I know at every event I go to, but large enough that I meet even more new people every time I step outside.

We've got 2 girls who wear tiaras because they're fabulous and we've got a group of area churches who put on huge events just to show the people of K-W how much they love them.

We have a restaurant that has been awarded the prestigious CAA/AAA Four Diamond award and another that is on the "Where to Eat in Canada" list and yet we also have Harmony Lunch, a place that cannot be described, only experienced.

I am beyond proud of my community and incredibly lucky I have the opportunity to live in a place like this.

Thank you, citizens of Waterloo Region, for making this one of the best places on earth to live. Thank you for caring about your neighbors, for accepting everyone as they are, for cleaning up parks, for supporting our local farmers, for bringing huge festivals and events to our area and for volunteering an immeasurable amount of hours to make our home a better place.

I ♥ Waterloo Region.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Foraging Family

I love foraging. My grandpa always took me out to search for morels when I was a kid and now that I've grown up, my repertoire of edible wild food has increased dramatically.

This week my hubby found an incredible forest full of fiddleheads, and by golly, wouldn't it just be that fiddleheads are just about my favourite thing to forage! So off we went today with the kids, to start the tradition of using them as slave labor to pick our meals.
This is our secret spot.

The boys needed a helping hand across the river.

When we walked into the field, all we saw was this...
...and they were EVERYWHERE. Small patches, runts just starting and lots of gorgeous, unfurled ones. This is what gets a chef excited!

My littlest boy got right in the action, counting the fiddleheads as he picked them ever so gently. This kid is destined to be a foodie for sure!

Tomorrow, I head out on my own for some morels and the last of the wild leeks.

It's been a great start to summer for this foraging family.