Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Emeril: Dinner nurtures family unity



By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press

Busy parents have busy children who have busy lives, but the one constant in most families' daily schedules is dinnertime. So, says chef Emeril Lagasse, make the most of it.

"There is an anchor to food. It's finally the end of the day, and the reward is the meal. Even when pets - horses, dogs - are at the end of the chore they get a treat," he says.

After working (either at one of his nine restaurants or his Food Network TV show), Lagasse says it's a real treat to come home and fix dinner for his wife and 1-year-old son. It's their time to connect - often over a soup with tiny pieces of chicken and vegetables.

"My whole big push this year - on my TV show, too - is I'm trying to get families together at the table. It's a great place to open up, to get to know each other, and it also stops kids from eating crap," he says.

Lagasse says he's already encouraging his son to expand his palate beyond strained peas and mashed bananas; one of his favorite breakfasts is watermelon and eggs.

"He loves hanging out in the kitchen. He's got his little pot and pretends to cook," Lagasse says.

"It so great to see that kids are cooking, sometimes they even inspire mom and dad. Kids say, 'We can have fun, get an education - you read and use math when you cook - and at the end you get to eat something good.' "

He realizes it's not practical to think every family will sit down together every night, but it's a worthy goal. Of course, once there are several people at the table - all of whom have their own tastes and opinions - finding a crowd-pleasing meal might be a challenge, he says.

"I think if you involve the family in deciding what we're all going to eat together, it will be easier. Have a family conversation about 'What does everyone want?' Learn to compromise and how to make a family decision."

Or pick up Lagasse's new cookbook Emeril's There's a Chef in My Family: Recipes to Get Everybody Cooking (HarperCollins; $22.99).

Lagasse observes an irony in this over-scheduled society: "We think and plan everything but we often leave out the food plan, one of the most important things of daily life."




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