Photos by Phil Mansfield
Every once in a while I feel sorry for myself because my kids won’t eat my lovingly prepared meals; for comfort, I seek out one of my fellow mom’s, specifically those with teen-agers. Invariably they look at me with a withering ‘well let me get you the violins and a stiff drink fast, your poor thing’ stare, reminding me that I am a mere amateur at kitchen rejection. When I hear their tales of trying to feed their teens, my load somehow seems lighter, more manageable. Snarky, picky, and sometimes downright nasty, it is no easy task to manage teens at the table.
Enter Rozanne Gold and her new book, Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. I sat down with the author and discovered that the book’s appeal to teens is as organic as its recipes. Gold recently adopted a teen-ager and for the past few years they have been coming together as a family, in and out of the kitchen. Her daughter was one of five teen chefs engaged to prepare and test each recipe. Their collective industry and obvious enjoyment is evidenced throughout the book with hands-on pictures depicting their efforts.
“Something a little quirky is that everyone, everyone is talking about childhood obesity and overeating and diabetes and getting back to the table – no one wrote a book. Someone forgot to write the book.” She correctly assessed that the literature includes many books about cooking, kids, and healthy eating, but few if any that feature well known chefs who have cross referenced their work with a nutritionist in order to serve the teen audience. This gap as well as her family changes prompted her to write the book and have nutritionist Helen Kimmel review and validate the recipes. Coupled with her teen chefs’ participation and stamp of approval, the book has a tremendous sense of leading-edge authenticity.
“I like being the first to do things”, says Gold. A food pioneer, she graduated from Tufts and and did graduate work at NYU. With no formal culinary training, Gold beg, borrowed, and stole experience, and at 23 became the Executive Chef at Mayor Koch’s Gracie Mansion. “I catered the first seder ever at Gracie Mansion. It was a great experience. The Mayor told me to put Perrier (instead of seltzer) in the matzo balls which I had never done before. I did a traditional seder for his family. Holiday favorites included anything with garlic, as well as brisket with vermouth, onions, and a bay leaf.” Many books and restaurants later, she has become a well known force in the food world. Just this week, she broke boundaries by having her book referenced in the New York Times Health blog, as well as featured in the Science section for its unique approach.
Gold does admire others in the industry attempting to improve school and home meals for children, including Bill Telepan, Ann Cooper , and Lynn Fredericks. But for this book, she felt she had to pave a new path. “Setting criteria for what eating fresh food means was a process. Working with the nutritionist, we definitely decided not to go the route of calories or counting, but to come up with some broader way of expressing healthy food. The original title was Ketchup Ain’t A Vegetable.”, laughed Gold. “I’m not doctrinaire about this at all. There is so much discussion about good food and bad food. My solution, my definition is eat fresh food. Which is also a way of saying no processed food or very little processed food. That became my benchmark. The basis of every recipe is that a vegetable or a fruit has to be the star of the dish. You will find this in every recipe. That is my bottom line. The fact that there is very little meat in there is cognizant of the fact that kids are serious about wanting to be vegetarians; 80 – 90% of the book is suitable for vegetarians.”
Gold is very interested in sourcing. As a restauranteur (The Rainbow Room) as well as a home cook, she is very aware of the power of purchasing. “I am interested in local but fresh is more important. We had the best peach we ever had in our life 2 years ago in March from Costco. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know how it got there, but it was extraordinary. I’m not sure that is a bad thing. I understand the eco-system of farmers and sustainability and fresh, and we need to be very supportive of that. But I shop in a variety of places. I shop at Key Foods sometimes out of necessity. We have a wonderful farmer’s market here on Saturdays, and we’re always there buying wonderful things. And I am always in the city on Wednesday at the Union Square market.”
“It’s really exciting to be there at the farmer’s markets; if you are interested in trends and what’s happening, that is where the trends are happening today. That is so different than 20 years ago when trends happened from fancy chefs and from kitchens. Today, trends are happening by what you see at the farmer’s markets and that’s fabulous. Just to see the micro-greens…what the farmers are doing now, that’s where most of the creativity is coming from. I remember just a few months ago I walked by one of the stands at the farmers market and there were 10 different colors of radishes. 6 different colors of carrots. It was just breathtaking. Chef’s are very inspired by it.”
That being said, she also recognizes the challenges of urban life and trying to grow your own food. “I do have a window box. It is hard to run a kitchen and run your garden. If a home cook has land to grow a garden, that is wonderful. I always grew up in and around the city, so it was never practical. I remember once when I was in college I was at my boyfriend’s house and I looked out the window and said, ‘Look, someone threw an eggplant out the window.’ Little did I know it was growing in his mother’s garden! I knew nothing about farming or sustainability – it was not the language at the time. I think it is exciting that it is now.”
The majority of recipes in this book are vegetarian, but there are few vegan offerings. I asked Gold for her perspective on the movement. “I believe in culinary history and gastronomy. My religion is much more in classic cuisine and less about anything doctrinaire. I believe in doing everything and eating everything and trying everything. In balance. Vegans would have to work really hard to have a well-balanced, nutritious, healthy diet. And that’s OK because they believe in something else like not eating animals of any kind – that is a different belief system.”
The book reads nicely with lush photography. It includes interesting and fun recipes such as sweet carrot jam, ginger scallion brown rice with scallions, fish tacos, and mac and cheese with cauliflower and red pepper sauce. And of course olive oil chocolate chip cookies, below for you and your teens’ enjoyment. Who knows, you might end a meal with a smile, or at least a nod.
Want to win a copy of Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs.? Leave a comment below about cooking for/with teens. Last date to post comments is 12/21/09. The winners will be notified on 12/22/09.
Courtesy of Rozanne Gold. All rights reserved.
Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups self-rising flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 extra large eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
6 ounces miniature chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Put the flour and sugar in the bowl an electric mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms. The mixture will be slightly crumbly and a little oily.
3. Knead several times on the counter. Form into 24 balls and then shape into small ovals that are 1 ½ inches long and ¾ inch wide. Roll the tops in miniature chocolate chips. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or use a Silpat pad. Place the cookies 1inch apart. Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan. Remove with a spatula.