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Chips off the old block: the chefs teaching their kids to cook | Food

Adam Byatt, chef-owner, Trinity, London and daughter Rosie

Cooking professionally runs in the Byatt family. Adam, owner of the Michelin-starred Trinity restaurant in Clapham, south London, is a third-generation pan-rattler. Grandad was an army cook and, in the early 1970s, Adam’s mum led the kitchen in the director’s dining room at Marks & Spencer. This dynasty may continue, too. In March, Adam’s daughter, Rosie, 13, completed a young chefs’ course at Westminster Kingsway College.

But, stresses Byatt, when his mum taught him to cook as a child, it was not in anticipation of his joining Claridge’s at 16. Instead, it was a basic primer in independent adult life. One, says Byatt, that deserves greater emphasis, particularly in schools. “We have to feed ourselves every day. Teaching someone to do that in an efficient, healthy way, using food cleverly and not wastefully, there’s got to be no better life skill.”

Byatt, 47, keeps his Sundays free and they frequently revolve around cooking with his family: Rosie, 18-year-old Jack, and his wife, Vicki, at their south London home. This is bonding time and an opportunity to pass on cooking skills, which Rosie has enthusiastically embraced.

“Cooking is 80% peeling and cleaning,” says Byatt and, even at six or seven, Rosie took a philosophical view of such grunt work. “With any job,” she says, “there’s always a boring bit before you get to the fun.” Visiting Trinity (“stood on a pot because I couldn’t reach”), she was immediately fascinated by the alchemy of cooking. “You’ve six raw ingredients and, after an hour, this amazing thing people come back to eat.”

At home, says Byatt, “the key is to give kids a whole task to complete. Cauliflower cheese, say. They have to prep the cauliflower, make a sauce, cook the cauliflower. Putting something on the table that looks and tastes great gives you a sense of satisfaction you don’t get from peeling carrots.”

Byatt is a “very calm” tutor, says Rosie, gently offering advice or assistance. If relatives or friends are coming to eat – a potentially judgmental audience – she notices his chef’s instincts sharpen. “He isn’t all over, screaming, but it is: ‘OK, guys, get the potatoes on, they’ll be here in 10 minutes, come on, come on.’ It’s fun.”

Flying solo, Rosie can now produce a good roast dinner, even if, despite following the recipe, her Yorkshire puddings “always turn out massive”. She cooks some midweek family meals too, such as sardine bolognese with spaghetti or Jersey Royals, asparagus and salmon fillets, oven-baked on a bed of sliced onions, white wine and butter to create a sauce.

“Sometimes, I feel my brother just takes his food and goes. I don’t really get, ‘Oh, thanks!’ But me and mum eat together and it’s nice seeing people enjoy your food. I am proud of it,” says Rosie.

Practical and creative, Rosie blossoms in the kitchen, says Byatt. “She really opens up. Cooking can do that for people. It does for me. It’s a happy, comfortable place for Rosie. That’s why we’ve encouraged it, more than, ‘Go take the reins of the business.’”

Not that Byatt would be opposed to that. His children have grown up around Trinity. “It was important for the kids to know where Daddy is and why. On a purist level, I wanted them to have a love for food, and that’s rubbed off to a degree.”

Jack works occasional front-of-house shifts at Trinity (“he’s socially confident – it suits his personality”), but Rosie talks about this environment with a pro chef’s excitement. “The open-flame stoves were amazing and the walk-in fridges I used to hide in,” she says. “You can customise the decoration, design and food to your taste. I thought restaurants were cool.”

After completing the Kingsway’s young chefs’ course (her memorable highlight was filleting whole plaice), Rosie is adept enough to help out a couple of hours each Thursday in the Upstairs at Trinity kitchen. Sometimes, she finds herself looking at empty units locally and imagining opening her own restaurant there. “Little, peaceful, tucked away. Not much on the menu, more a quick lunch restaurant.” Despite that, as a career option, cooking is still a “maybe”.

Rosie could have a wonderful life in hospitality, says Byatt. “I’m not thinking, ‘That’s a horrible place to send my child.’ It’s an industry that’s very much changed for the better and, post-Covid, you’re going to see it change unrecognisably.

“Why shouldn’t [Trinity] be a family business? I’d love them to be part of it. If Rosie decides it’s right for her, the option is open. If she doesn’t, no problem.”

Adam and Rosie’s scrambled duck eggs with English asparagus

Adam and Rosie’s scrambled duck eggs with English asparagus. Prop styling: Kate Whitaker. Food styling: Justine Pattison. Photograph: Kate Whitaker/The Observer

A perfect brunch dish that is seasonal and healthy, quick to cook and fun for the family.

It is a great way to teach children about timing. Duck eggs are easy to come by, rich and delicious to eat.

Serves 4
fresh duck eggs 6
sourdough 4 slices
English asparagus 12 large spears, peel the bottom 3cm
salted butter 50g, plus extra for the toast
creme fraiche 100g
chives ½ bunch, finely chopped

Break the eggs into a bowl and break them up with a fork until amalgamated. Next, toast the sourdough. Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil. Add the asparagus to the pan of boiling water: they will take 3 minutes to cook.

Place a heavy-based saucepan over a medium low heat and add 30g of the butter. Once melted, add the duck eggs and season with salt and black pepper. Butter the toast and place on to warmed plates.

Stir the eggs constantly using a spatula, scraping the sides down to allow them to scramble, and keep the heat low. Once the eggs have begun to set, remove them from the heat and add the remaining 20g of butter, half the creme fraiche and the chives, folding constantly.

Top the buttered toast with the eggs and the remaining creme fraiche.

Remove the asparagus from the water, season with salt and pepper and place three spears on to each plate.

Trinity, 4 The Polygon, London SW4

Nina Matsunaga, head chef and co-owner, the Black Bull, Sedbergh, and son Ernie

Nina Matsunaga and her 8-year-old son Ernie, making sushi together at home.
Nina Matsunaga and her 8-year-old son Ernie, making sushi together at home. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

At two, Ernie was already “inverted commas, ‘helping’” mum, Nina Matsunaga, with her work at the Three Hares deli in Sedbergh. He would pretend to chop vegetables, separate red and yellow tomatoes or, says the chef and baker, “he liked folding bread, something physical he could get messy with”.

This early interaction with food had “no thought” behind it. Matsunaga and Ernie’s dad, James Ratcliffe, were busy. They would follow up their acclaimed deli by opening a nearby hotel and restaurant, the Black Bull, in 2018.

Following in his dad’s footsteps (Ratcliffe grew up locally), Ernie, now eight, has been foraging outside this small town on the Cumbrian-Yorkshire Dales border since he could walk. He may not eat wild garlic yet but he knows what it is. Such trips, says Matsunaga, are part necessity in entertaining him and partly about giving him “a good, general grounding around food”.

Raised in Düsseldorf by Japanese parents, Matsunaga, 35, has experienced periods of mild panic that Ernie’s “Asian palate” was not developing. “For the first four years, he didn’t like soy sauce. It’s ridiculous. What child doesn’t eat salty soy?” But, generally, she is relaxed about his diet.

Ernie knows he must try everything his parents cook. “You should try something three times or every seven years, to check if you like it,” he says. But if Ernie tries and rejects, for example, wasabi (“What’s that spicy sauce thing you put with rice and salmon?”), Matsunaga will not repeatedly force it on him. “It’s overrated this obsession with making kids eat loads of fruit and veg. If they really don’t like it, you can’t force them. Meal times become a chore. We give Ernie the fruit and veg we know he’ll eat.”

Arguably, it is more important that Ernie knows how to cook. As a student in London, Matsunaga was shocked by how useless other 18-year-olds were. “Incapable of boiling an egg, heating soup or cooking bacon without burning the house down. Cooking is as important as being able to operate a washing machine or change a light bulb.”

Lockdown finally gave Matsunaga time to engage Ernie in the kitchen, a habit they are continuing on Matsunaga’s days off from the Black Bull. “I don’t know if it’s a boy thing but his attention span is short. He gets bored quickly. Ask him to peel 10 carrots and he’ll do five. If you don’t deliver bite-size information, one step, the next, it doesn’t work.”

Anything that involves “shaping things”, meatballs, sausage rolls or rolling sushi, is popular with Ernie. He will eat egg and cucumber in sushi but prefers fried chicken or pork, and he is suspicious about the propaganda around avocados:. “I’ve seen avocado all over TV. They say it’s a superfood, really good for you and delicious. But I don’t think it is.”

Family pizza sessions are less controversial. “We used to do pizza nights a lot,” says Ernie, who lists his favourite toppings as cheese, ham, pepperoni and Peperami. Matsunaga clarifies he is not allowed pepperoni and Peperami at the same time. But Ernie is sure about one thing: “I love meat!”

What does Mummy get you to do for the pizza?

“I roll it, put sauce and our toppings on – we each get to choose whatever toppings we want – and put it in the oven.”

Is she strict in the kitchen? “No.”

Does she let you make a mess? “Sometimes.”

“We don’t tidy up at home,” laughs Matsunaga. “James does all that.” Somewhat ironically, it transpires.

“Dad used to be a really good cook until he was banned, because he was too messy. Mummy wouldn’t let him cook any more,” says Ernie. “When we were younger, when it used to be Daddy’s turn cooking, he just went for takeout. For two years, I thought he made it all.”

Nina and Ernie’s sushi

Nina and Ernie’s sushi. Prop styling: Kate Whitaker. Food styling: Justine Pattison.
Nina and Ernie’s sushi. Prop styling: Kate Whitaker. Food styling: Justine Pattison. Photograph: Kate Whitaker/The Observer

At home we like to build our own sushi, so we take 8-10 sheets of nori seaweed, cut each one into 4 and pop several on each person’s plate for them to hand roll their sushi and add the ingredients they fancy.

Serves 4-6
nori seaweed 8-10 sheets cut into 4 to use for hand rolling
individual hand rolling bamboo sushi mat (optional)

For the sushi rice
uncooked Japanese short-grain rice 300g
cold water 360ml
kombu kelp 1 piece, optional but nice
sushi vinegar 4 tbsp

For the sushi fillings
avocado 1, sliced
cucumber ¼, cut lengthways into 6 and deseeded
tamagoyaki cut into strips (see below)
chicken katsu (see below)

For the tamagoyaki
eggs 3 (about 150g)
dashi 45ml
sugar 2 tsp
mirin 1 tsp
soy sauce ¼ tsp
salt a pinch

For the chicken katsu
chicken breast 1 boneless, skinless (around 250g), butterflied (so essentially you end up with 2 fillets)
salt ½ tsp
freshly ground black pepper ⅛ tsp
plain flour 3 tbsp
egg 1 large (50g)
vegetable oil ½ tbsp (for the egg)
panko breadcrumbs 50g
vegetable oil 500ml (or enough to fill your pan of choice with 4cm of oil)

To serve
soy
wasabi
kewpie mayo

For the tamagoyaki
Mix everything for the tamagoyaki together, and strain through a sieve, reserving the egg mixture.

Heat the pan over a medium heat, then drizzle in the vegetable oil. When a drop of the egg mixture is added to the pan and sizzles, it’s ready to cook.

Pour a thin layer of egg into the pan, quickly tilt the pan to coat the entire surface. Poke any air bubbles if they appear.

After the bottom of the egg has set but is still soft on top, start rolling the egg into a log shape from one side to the other, starting from the far side of the pan and rolling toward the pan handle.

Move the rolled omelette to the far side of the pan where you started to roll and apply more oil to the pan, ideally under the omelette.

Pour in another thin layer of the egg mixture to just cover the bottom of the pan. Make sure to lift the omelette to spread the mixture underneath.

When the new layer of egg has set and is still soft on top, start rolling it back from one side to the other. Repeat this process until you’ve used all the mixture.

Remove the omelettes from the pan and place on a bamboo sushi mat.

While warm, roll into the mat which helps it take the traditional shape. (If you don’t have a sushi mat, place on a tray to cool, then wrap in clingfilm.)

Let it stand for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to the fridge to fully set for about 2 hours, or overnight if having for lunch the next day.

For the rice
Submerge it in cold water in a mixing bowl, then wash the rice by moving it about with your hands. Discard the water and repeat a further three times. The water should be clearer after this process. Drain the rice through a mesh sieve and shake off excess water.

Bring the rice and the cold water to the boil and add the kombu. Place a lid on the pan and turn the heat right down to a gentle simmer. Cook until the rice has fully absorbed the water. That should take around 8-10 minutes at most. Take the pan off the heat, keeping the lid in place.

Let the rice stand for approximately 20-30 minutes. When the rice has finished cooking, remove the kombu (it can be kept for stews or composted if you have no further use for it).

Place the rice in a large bowl or on a baking tray but don’t spread it too thin. Pour over the sushi vinegar and gently incorporate it by “slicing” the rice with a wooden paddle or a wooden spoon that has been well wetted. Flip sections between your slices but don’t stir – it makes the rice mushy and too soft. Ideally cool the rice with a hand fan or even a table top electric fan. It cools quicker and prevents the rice from becoming sticky.

For the chicken katsu
Season the chicken and set aside. Prepare one bowl for flour, one for egg and oil mixed together, and one for the breadcrumbs. Dust the chicken on both sides with plain flour, dip in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

Heat the oil to 170C, then add the chicken to the hot oil (you can check if the oil is hot enough by gently dropping several panko breadcrumbs into it and if they sizzle then the oil is at the correct temperature). Fry the chicken in the vegetable oil for 8-10 minutes, turning halfway. At this stage you can check if the chicken is cooked through by inserting a skewer into the meat; if it runs clear with no blood it’s cooked, if it doesn’t then return it to the pan for another couple of minutes.

Remove from the oil, drain any excess and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing and adding to your sushi.

Remember to keep the pan on the back ring of your hob and do not allow children to do the frying.

Once you have finished cooking remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool completely before disposing of the oil in an appropriate container.

To serve
Place your fillings on a board or plate, and put the seaweed sheets on to a large plate, gently transfer the rice into a large bowl and place everything in the centre of the table so everyone can reach.

Don’t forget a rice paddle or wooden spoon to serve up the rice and don’t forget to put out a small individual bowl for each person, so they can add as much or as little soy, wasabi or kewpie mayonnaise as they like for dipping their sushi.

Put out a plate for each person and, if you have them, individual sushi mats.

If you don’t have sushi mats, don’t worry, you can just place a seaweed square rough side up on your plate, top with rice and your chosen filling, then simply hand roll into a small log shape. They should be quite small and can be eaten in three or four bites.

The Black Bull, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh LA10

Robin Perris, chef-owner, Pappy’s Texas Barbeque, son Sam and daughter Lucy

Robin Perris with her son Sam, 15, and daughter Lucy, 18, preparing their Texas-style pork ribs.
Robin Perris with her son Sam, 15, and daughter Lucy, 18, preparing their Texas-style pork ribs. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

The Perris children – Sam, 15, Lucy, 18, Annie, 21 – have had almost a decade to get over it but, for Lucy, the notorious holiday-not-holiday still rankles. “Mum and Dad told us we were going to Texas. We were so excited. Turns out, it was to tour Texas, trying barbecue.” Mum Robin, then researching for the launch of Pappy’s Texas Barbeque in Cumbria, protests there were amusement and water-park visits, too. But, jovially, Lucy is having none of it. “That’s what we did, for the whole holiday, eat barbecue every single day, driving hours to random spots.”

In a way, Texas-born Perris, 53, was equally surprised to be there. She grew up surrounded by low ’n’ slow Texas-style barbecue but, after marrying an Englishman and settling in Britain in the 1990s, had left barbecuing behind her.

That is until her father (or as Perris knew him, Pappy) fell ill and she began to consider their “great heritage” in food. Her grandfather, uncle and Pappy all barbecued competitively and, later, Pappy ran a mobile smoker serving food on the rodeo circuit. “I remember him sleeping on the couch and setting his alarm for 2am to go feed the fire,” says Perris.

Before he died in 2013, Pappy helped Perris pick a mobile smoker and at – what else? – a family barbecue after his funeral, Perris blurted out her plan to start Pappy’s Texas Barbeque in the UK. In food, she wanted to “get back to my roots”.

Perris started touring northern events serving ribs, 18-hour brisket and Texan hotlink sausages, her work inescapably woven into family life at her rural Cumbrian home. “The house would stink of barbecue,” says Lucy. “Sunbathing in the garden, all you could smell was smoke. Big pork butts [shoulders] in the kitchen. It was one big barbecue.”

The Perris children loved seasoning the pork or helping to prep coleslaw and potato salad. But Perris insists she was no perfect teacher-mother, serenely passing on skills in some bucolic idyll. “Truth is, we live a life of organised chaos and when life’s super-busy, we’re roping the kids in to help. They were young, we wanted to be together and we tried to make it fun going to cater a festival. Then, any time we had the British family over, about 20 members, the kids made something. We got them involved, but a lot of the time we needed them.”

During the pandemic, that team spirit was invaluable. In 2017, Pappy’s opened a dedicated smokehouse in Kendal, focusing on wholesale. But lockdown forced a pivot to home delivery, the success of which led to the creation of an outdoor, seasonal Pappy’s restaurant and, this month, the launch of a Pappy’s Taco Bar.

In lockdown, Sam helped Perris manage her smoking pits, in the process absorbing online tutorials about trimming meats or airflows, to sharpen his pitmaster skills. “Say barbecue in the UK and you think whacked-on sausages,” he explains. “Texan barbecue is a patient waiting game to get perfection.”

Meanwhile, Lucy was pulling pork butts with her mum: “You get the bone out, strip them. It’s hard work.” Such a division of labour reflects how Sam and Lucy cook at home. As they reached their teens, these self-sufficient kids (“We’ve been doing our washing since we can remember,” says Lucy) were expected to cook midweek meals. Perris did not direct them. If they wanted to move beyond pasta, they could ask for recipes, but she let them find their own level.

Sam is a natural (“He’s a good little chef,” says Lucy). He is studying food technology at GCSE and, from sushi to creme brulee, once he gets his teeth into a dish he goes deep in his research. For example, he set about exploring soy and other salty marinades “that break down meat to make it tender”, because “I hate anything that’s not a perfect steak”.

Increasingly, says Perris, “when it comes to classy cooking, he’s the teacher”.

“Honestly, I’m terrible at cooking,” reckons Lucy. But she has nailed half a dozen mainly American dishes, which she loves, by shadowing her mum.

In one extreme example, when Perris changed the recipe for her buttermilk fried chicken – a dish the family would demolish – Lucy insisted she be shown the original. “She started doing a healthier version and I said, ‘I’m not having this.’ I would have been about 12 and I made her show me how to do real fried chicken.”

Perris has no burning desire for her children to take over Pappy’s. But she is glad their American heritage will live on in their cooking. To that end, she is still trying to recreate her great-grandmother’s “incredible” kolaches, the Czech-inspired fruit pastries that are huge in Texas. “I need to master [the recipe], show my kids and pass it on.”

Robin, Sam and Lucy’s Texas-style meaty pork ribs with Pappy’s barbecue sauce and traditional slaw

Robin, Sam and Lucy’s Texas-style meaty pork ribs with Pappy’s barbecue sauce and traditional slaw. Prop styling: Kate Whitaker. Food styling: Justine Pattison.
Robin, Sam and Lucy’s Texas-style meaty pork ribs with Pappy’s barbecue sauce and traditional slaw. Prop styling: Kate Whitaker. Food styling: Justine Pattison. Photograph: Kate Whitaker/The Observer

Our smokes can take up to five days of slow cooking. To save you time, we’ve created an equally tasty version of our infamous ribs that can be cooked in any oven with our secret rub recipe to add a little Texan punch.

Serves 6
For the ribs
flaked sea salt 1½ tbsp
cracked black pepper (or blitzed black peppercorns) 2 tbsp
garlic powder ½ tbsp
onion powder ½ tbsp
smoked paprika ½ tbsp
pork spare ribs 2kg, separated
water 400ml

For the sauce (makes 500ml)
white onion 1 small
green pepper ½
celery 1 stick
water 380ml
garlic 1 large clove, peeled
ketchup 450g
brown sugar 60g
Worcestershire sauce 60g
smoked paprika ¾ tsp
jalapeno 1 small, deseeded, diced
lemon ½, thinly sliced, rind on

For the slaw
white cabbage 600g, thinly sliced
carrot 400g, grated
white wine vinegar 35ml
mayonnaise 500g, or more to taste
salt 1¼ tsp or to taste
black pepper 1½ tsp or to taste
caster sugar ½ tbsp

To serve
freshly sliced white onion
dill pickles

Prepare the ribs. Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. Mix together all of the spices for the ribs. Evenly coat each one with a thin layer of the dry rub spice. If you like it like the Texans, add more spice.

Put the ribs in a deep roasting tray, add the water and cover it tight with foil. Place in the oven for 3 hours. Check the liquid halfway through cooking, and add more if necessary.

While the ribs are cooking, start making the barbecue sauce. The recipe makes more than you need but it can be kept chilled in the fridge for up to 10 days. Thinly slice the onion, pepper and celery and bring to a boil with 200ml of water in a deep large pan, then turn down the heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the garlic clove and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in a blender until it is a smooth liquid. Add all the remaining ingredients and water. Mix well, return to the heat and simmer for 1 hour stirring regularly so that the sugars dissolve but do not burn. Simmer until reduced and thickened.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the slaw together in a large bowl, seal and allow to cool in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour. This makes more than you need, but it can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Once the barbecue sauce is made and the ribs have finished cooking, remove the ribs from the oven and turn up the heat to 200C fan/gas mark 7. Gently reheat the sauce if it has been chilled. Remove the foil from the ribs and pour two-thirds of the warm sauce all over them. Finish by returning the tray uncovered to the oven for another 15-20 minutes until they are sticky and glazed.

Serve your ribs, the rest of the sauce and slaw with freshly sliced white onion and dill pickles. Eat like a real Texas cowboy and enjoy.

Pappy’s Texas Barbeque, The Old Smokehouse, Yard 2, Stricklandgate, Kendal LA9