Most days, executive chef Thomas Stewart can be found inside the former Versace mansion, whipping up mushroom risotto and crab and truffle gnocchi for the estate's signature restaurant, Gianni's at the Villa. But what he really loves happens shortly after he leaves the restaurant.
"On my days off, my daughter and I always put on our chef hats and team up to prepare some delicious Southern-comfort food," Stewart says. "Fried chicken, shrimp 'n' grits, biscuits 'n' gravy. The best part is that she gets to see how passionate I am about food, and I get to teach her all kinds of cooking techniques."
Being a chef is tough, and adding fatherhood to the mix is even tougher. Father's Day is this Sunday, so Stewart, along with nine other chefs, talks about something that outshines working inside some of the most sought-after restaurants: cooking with the kids. Here, this batch of chef-fathers shares the easiest (and cleanest) meals to whisk up with your little ones and how precious it is to spend time together in the kitchen.
"I love making breakfast with my kids, like eggs, bacon, and pancakes, on weekend mornings. The whole family enjoys that time together, and it keeps me on my "cooking toes" with everyone's different egg style requests and degrees of bacon doneness, to which I begrudgingly and happily oblige at the same time. What the kids want, the kids get." — Chef/owner Danny Serfer, Mignonette, Mignonette Uptown, and Blue Collar
“What I do enjoy more than anything is having breakfast together. We’re both still a little sleepy as I carry her from her crib into the kitchen. We prepare her bottle and my coffee, grab a comfy seat on the couch, and cuddle together as we turn on some cartoons. By the time we’re both done with our morning hot beverage, we walk back to the kitchen to make her breakfast. She picks what she wants from the fridge and cupboards, like eggs, oatmeal, arepas, fruit, yogurt, or a little of everything. We cook together — her with her Tupperware, pots, and spoons on the floor, and me on the stove. Whatever she picks for breakfast, we both eat and enjoy together.” — Chef Michael Lewis, Kyu
“One of our favorite things to make together is fresh pasta. My daughter enjoys the whole process and loves rolling out the dough." — Executive chef Jim Pastor, Rusty Pelican
“My son really loves to get his hands on the food, so I'll let him help me with the prep and work the grill a little. Give him some gooey stuff to get gross with, have him season and turn a couple things on the grill, and eventually, get bored and go play games until the food is ready. We like to make a parrillada pretty often, which is just a mixed grill. You can prep everything ahead, marinating and seasoning the meats, and make some cucumber salad or grilled vegetable with the meats. Then it's just tending the fire and drinking cocktails while it cooks. My pro tip: The more the kids are doing, the less you're doing, so put them to work and kick the dogs up with a cool one.” — Chef Craig Wallen, Le Zoo
"Both of my daughters are very young — 4 months and 2 years — so neither of them is quite ready to man the stoves or chop the mise en place yet, but I do enjoy cooking for them on my days off. My oldest daughter, Mia, is a huge fan of eggs and rice. She's the toughest critic out here. I am obsessed with a dish called omurice, where you mix steamed rice with onions or other flavorings and top it with an omelet. Mia seems to like miso, onions, and ketchup (and more ketchup) on her omurice. She is tiny but can eat a three-egg omelet and a full cup of rice in one seating. You can say it’s a shared obsession." — Executive chef Alex Becker, Kuro
"My boys and I are always outside, so naturally we barbecue and grill a lot. It’s tough to say what our favorite thing to cook is because we love food, but making sausages is at the top of the list. We cure, grind, and stuff pork sausages at home and smoke them on our grill. As they have gotten older, they are able to help more, and now everyone has a job, like seasoning, grinding, stuffing, and lighting the coals. It's really become a great family tradition." — Chef Gavin Pera, Burlock Coast
"I like to make meatballs (albóndigas) with my son. It's a fun and delicious activity that we can do together without making a major mess in the kitchen, which is something my wife also enjoys. Another fun dish we love to make together is my version my of French toast, made with croissants, coconut jam, fruit, and some nuts. And of course, my go-to everyday meal that my son and I love to make are quesadillas with a zillion different fillings. For me, it's usually salad greens and vegetables. For them, usually cheese and soppressata." — Chef Richard Ampudia, Lolo's Surf Cantina
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“My kids loves to help me in the kitchen, especially when we’re making their favorite meal: meatballs and sauce. I can always count on them to be my meatball-rollers and taste-testers. It’s a joy passing on my passion for food to them.” — Executive chef Brian Doyle, Council Oak Steaks & Seafood
“We love to grill. Our go-to would be grilled rib eye and scallions, barbecued chicken thighs, and Nathan's hot dogs on potato rolls with mustard, relish, and sauerkraut. We also love our grilled veggies in the summer, like corn with lime butter and grilled asparagus. Recently, we created a new dish with broccolini, leek, and pomegranate salsa verde. We look for any excuse to turn on the grill, enjoy the sun, and have a nice ice-cold adult (for me) and nonadult (for my son) beverage." — Chef Josh Elliott, the Restaurant at the Raleigh
“It’s important for me to teach her to make food that is part of her heritage. I teach her Guam — specifically Chamorro — or Puerto Rican cuisines: usually red rice and sancocho or some types of stews. She’s coming along... still in the 'OMG' phase, but she always wants to help me cook, even at work." — Executive chef Dustin Atoigue, Mondrian South Beach