- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of the great joys in life is passing on knowledge and experience to your children. For my wife, Bridgette, and me, that often includes enjoying great food with our 9-year-old daughter. While she loves pizza as much as the next kid, she also truly enjoys exploring a gourmet meal.

Being Cajun, I learned early on the importance of sharing food with friends and family. Without really trying, my grandmother taught me the value of good cooking to a good life. They didn’t have much, but they always ate well.

Eating well is not only a way to pass a good time, as they say in southwestern Louisiana, but also a means to imbibe the decadent wonder that butter, the holy trinity — onions, bell pepper and celery — and fresh shrimp can produce. Those are the ingredients — besides spices and rice — for a top-notch etouffee. This rich and incredibly satisfying stew is a staple of all well-worn dinner tables back home and a guaranteed means to a very desirable end: good conversation among those who share it.

The importance of a good meal can be found in such down-home cooking, but also by eating at a world-class restaurant. Despite what you may think, having kids doesn’t mean giving up eating out, even at the fanciest places.

Last week, my wife and I took our daughter to her favorite restaurant, the culinary palace 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, to celebrate the beginning of fourth grade. I began bringing her there when she was 6 years old for “dates” when my wife was traveling on business. That first meal led to many others, which became much more important to our relationship than I ever could have expected. While she learned about great cooking during each visit and indulged in little-girl fantasies while dressing up, I learned a little bit more about her at each meal.

This tradition quickly led to her refusing to share a foie-gras appetizer because, as she succinctly put it, “You’ll eat it all, Daddy.”

About a year later, her little face peeked out from behind the large menu to our server and she inquired, “No squab tonight?” The foodie joy in me was immense.

That simple question led to the chef coming out unsolicited to meet the young lady who wanted squab and to a standing offer to make sure to have some on hand whenever she came to eat, whether it was on the menu or not.

The grasshopper had learned from the master. The restaurant’s new and incredibly talented chef, Bertrand Chemel, prepared an incredible squab dish just for her last week.

On this latest visit, she also surprised me by pointing out that the fresh mint ice cream dessert would be “perfect to clean the palate between courses.” Not only good food thinking, but that’s great deductive reasoning and certainly more than she has picked up in school.

Her record for meal length is now five courses. Yes, this typically includes a walk to the koi pond at some places and too many trips to the bathroom — she is a kid. But that is without coloring books, portable video games or a DVD player in sight.

We talk and eat, which remains a novel concept to some. After dinner once with friends she did not know, my daughter asked why our companion’s child played Nintendo the whole time instead of talking to everyone there. Parents who encourage such rudeness should be ashamed and not only because it is lazy parenting. They are missing out on the conversation and joy to which a good meal with your children can lead.

I’ve heard it too often from other parents when their kids won’t eat a meal that might be outside their normal eating habits: “I’ll just get them a hot dog.”

Such thinking shouldn’t pass a parent’s lips. Time with family is precious. It is even better when your children ask for something unexpected instead of pizza delivery.

Last month, my daughter piped up from a book she was reading and asked if we could have steaks for dinner and if I could teach her how to cook them. How could I say no?

So next time the little ones ask for McDonald’s, why not politely refuse and sell them on trying something different? A new type of pasta is a good start. Helping them experience life and explore the unknown is a great lesson they, and you, are sure never to forget.

Christian Bourge is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Times. His etouffee recipe remains a family secret.

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