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KIDS IN THE KITCHEN : Gourmet Kids: You come to the dinner table and find it's foie gras and arugula again, and your famous chef dad says you have to eat it or you're going straight to your room. The unappreciated trials of being the child of a gourmet.

June 28, 1990|HELENE SIEGEL | Siegel is co-author of "City Cuisine." She is writing "The Ethnic Kitchen" series for Harper & Row. and

As a cookbook writer, I had high hopes for my son Joey. But at 7 he let me have it. As I proudly placed yet another exotic dinner in front of him, he announced, "I am no gourmet."

I took the news badly. Wasn't this the same kid who told the pediatrician at his third-year check-up that his favorite TV show was "Master Chefs of New York"? For weeks he begged me to carve his potatoes into little wooden shoes like the nice man in the white suit from Lutece. His chocolate has always been from France, his pasta from Italy and his mozzarella fresh. Was this his way of repaying me?

I'm not the only cookbook writer with a problem. According to Paula Wolfert, author of, among other books, "Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco," her young children were adventurous eaters when they grew up in France and Morocco. They ate everything she gave them including fresh sardines and baby eels.

As long as they didn't know what they were eating everything was fine. However, when daughter Leila learned one of her favorite foods was deep-fried lamb's testicles she put her foot down. "Oh Mommy, why do you do this to us?"

If these kids have it bad though, what about the children of great restaurant chef's? Imagine Ben and Vanessa Peel, ages 5 and 7, of Campanile and La Brea Bakery. Adults may stand in line and pay top dollar for the joy of biting into those crusty loaves. Ben and Vanessa don't care. They hate the crust.

Vanessa, who became agitated at the suggestion of ingesting crust, told a reporter her method for dealing with it: She slaps a slice over her mouth, then she sucks out the dough, sort of like a vacuum cleaner, and quickly transfers the hard part to her fist, under the table. There she wads it into a ball and disposes of it . . . when nobody's watching, of course.

Ben too views the crust as an obstacle to the good part. He takes one strong bite to break it open and flings it aside when done. Of course, they both hate bread with "things in it. You know like olives, figs, onions or cherries."

Some of the children of chefs do have discerning palates. Benoit Healy, age 5, whose parents Patrick and Sophie Healy own the elegant French restaurant Champagne, ate at the renowned Jamin when he visited Paris with his parents last summer. To him, foie gras is "better than Christmas."

When asked where the food was better, in Los Angeles or Paris, he replied with typical Gallic certainty, "Of course, here is better. Because McDonald's is here."

When his father demanded whether he would prefer the food at Champagne if it came packed in cardboard, Benoit was unintimidated. He wouldn't answer.

When these kids do eat out they tend to favor places a bit earthier than their parent's. McDonald's, Jay's Burgers, Johnny Rockets, Hamburger That Ate L.A., Canter's and the Farmer's Market all get four stars. They prefer places where they can run around and scream, something their parents do not allow in tonier establishments.

Christophe Richard, age 6, of Citrus restaurant, however, loves his father Michel's new Broadway Deli. He recommends the macaroni and cheese.

At home, though the cooking may be better than most, children everywhere are faced with the same old problem. How to get through the meal to get to the good part: dessert. Although most chef's children have tasted foods as sophisticated as sushi, oysters, caviar, calamari and foie gras, they sometimes feel like sending their dinners back.

At the home of Fresco's chef/owner Antonio Orlando, sons Donato, 9, and Giovanni, 7, must explain why they don't like Dad's cooking before they get their nightly helping of lemon meringue pie, tiramisu or castello (a chocolate mousse-and-meringue cake).

This doesn't happen often though with Giovanni, who is an adventurous eater. For his birthday last year, his father brought home a pig, stuffed it with herbs and garlic and then roasted it on the outdoor barbecue. Giovanni remembers it fondly.

Michel Richard also takes a direct approach to feeding his brood. When Christophe doesn't like something he tells him, "Eat it." According to Christophe he must take as many as 15 bites before he can dig into dessert. In order to force down Richard's food, he masks the flavors with plenty of apple juice.

A typical dessert chez Richard is vanilla yogurt, coffee ice cream or Pepperidge Farm jumbo chocolate chip cookies. Michel's favorites.

At Alice Waters' home, daughter Fanny, age 7, need only take one bite of any food she objects to. This doesn't happen often though, since Waters tailors her cooking to Fanny's tastes. From the time her daughter was born, Waters has chosen the very best of the best for her. She would examine every peach at her restaurant, Chez Panisse, to find the best one for infant Fanny. Of course, Fanny may go into culture shock when she tastes her first supermarket tomato.

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