Interviews

Parents Who Cook: Camille Labro

Camille, Cléo, Noé
Camille Labro with Cléo, 6, and Noé, 8.

Camille Labro is a French cook and food journalist who writes for M, the weekly magazine published by Le Monde. On her blog, Le Ventre libre (“the free belly”), she shares her gastronomic adventures and joys, and explores ways to eat better in an urban environment.

She is the mother of two children, and I am delighted to have her as a guest in my Parents Who Cook interview series. Read on for her many inspired tips! (Interview conducted in French and translated by myself.)

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

Noé, 8, loves to read, eat, bike, and roller-skate. Cléo, 6, loves to read, eat, dance, and draw. They are both very sociable, adventurous with flavors as with experiences, full of existential questions, and very jealous of the gastronomic meals I eat without them: they devour the pictures while calling me every name in the book.

Did having children change the way you cook?

Not really, but it has given me structure, and has forced me to cook more regularly and to think of the nutritional qualities of the meals. I’ve set a rule for myself ever since they started eating more or less everything: I prepare balanced meals with a small first course (usually a raw vegetable), a dish (protein + carb + vegetable), and a simple dessert (yogurt or fruit).

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

When my children were very young and I was still breastfeeding them (I did for nine months each), I wasn’t working very much, so I had time to cook. I would place the baby in the bouncy chair next to me and talk about what I was preparing. In general, he/she was very attentive and liked the movements, the noises, the smells (better than a mobile!). And if he/she was getting impatient, I would give him/her a stick of carrot to suck on or a crust of bread to gnaw on.

Otherwise, for parents who work, I think the main tip is to prepare lots of things in advance. Pick one day a week, Sunday for instance, to go to the greenmarket and cook lots of dishes that you’ll freeze: stews, soups, gratins…

And there are other simple things you can do, like wrapping small steaks or fish fillets individually for freezing (you can transfer however many you need to the fridge in the morning and have them thawed by dinnertime), freezing pesto in ice cube trays (one ice cube per person for a dish of pasta), washing and drying all your fruits, vegetables, and greens in advance so they’ll be ready to use. It takes some logistics to alleviate the workload for the rest of the week.

As for dinner parties, it’s hard to pull them off when you’re a young parent… But you can always invite your friend over to cook dinner! I’ve done that often when I was feeling overwhelmed: you like to cook ? Come eat at my place. I’ll take care of the shopping and set the table; you’ll cook while I take care of the baby. It can be done as a group, too, with other young parents, and you take turns playing the different roles. It’s fun, convivial, and a good way to show solidarity!

Camille Labro
Camille Labro photographed by her son in her kitchen.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Tamami Haga

Tamami of Coco & Me
Tamami Haga, photographed by Andy Andrews.

Tamami Haga is a Japanese Londoner and passionate baker who sells her handmade chocolates and pastries from a stall at Broadway Market in Hackney, East London. She also writes the lovely blog Coco & Me, which I’ve been following for years and years, and mixes her experiences as a stall-keepers with inspiring — and precisely written — recipes. I love her Luxury Brownies in particular. She is currently working on her own cookbook.

Tamami is the mother of two children, and I am very happy to have her as a guest for the Parents Who Cook interview series. Please welcome Tamami!

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

My son Issei is nine and my daughter Sakura is four. Issei is a kind, sensitive kid who might tut if there’s rubbish on the pavement and would pick it up, then put it in the bin nearby. He is also very clever.

Sakura is a very funny girl and loves to come up with her own lyrics to famous tunes. She is very skillful with her drawing. And being Japanese, she says “Aww, cu~te!” and “Kawaii~!” rather a lot.

Did having children change the way you cook?

Yes, it’s totally changed! When I was single I couldn’t care less about the “five veggies/fruits a day” stuff. I never bothered with eating breakfast for example. Imagine a twenty-something, going for a pint or three in a pub after work… that was me!

But now, it can’t be “eat anything at anytime,” obviously. I try all the time to notch up square meals for the family. But you know, I don’t find it tiresome or a bore to cook anyway — I keep it interesting for me by trying new ingredients, new skills and new recipes. Just last weekend, I cooked ox cheeks for the first time! I slow-cooked them for two hours and the result was meltingly soft.

The food might turn out wrong at times though, and the children may turn up their noses. But they critique it with me and will always tell me, “Well done mummy for trying.” And with that, I think, “Well, at least I tried” and at least they see that I like a challenge. Hopefully that approach to challenging things and also to keep on trying will rub off on them.

Sakura
Tamami’s 4-year-old daughter, Sakura (with homemade bear cub doughtnut)

Continue reading »

Draw Me A Fridge: Luisa Weiss

For this new installment of our Draw Me A Fridge series (read about it here), Alexia spoke with Luisa Weiss.

Luisa Weiss blogs at The Wednesday Chef and is the author of the best-selling food memoir My Berlin Kitchen, which was published last September by Viking. She’s half American, half Italian and was born in Berlin. She moved back to her birth city three years ago, after spending a decade in New York. She now lives in Berlin with her husband Max and their 10-month-old son Hugo.

Alexia Colson-Duparchy

What are your fridge/freezer/pantry staples?

Luisa Weiss

Fridge: Dijon mustard, a wedge of Parmesan, ketchup, at least two jars of jam at any given time, maple syrup, yogurt (whole milk for my son, lowfat for me), brown sugar (to stay moist!), unsalted butter, a tube of tomato paste, eggs (dinner’s always possible with eggs in the house), Sicilian colatura [a salted anchovy sauce] leftover from recipe testing my book, a jar of Better Than Bouillon stock base and a box of baking soda (for odor control).

Freezer: Ages ago, I read that you should keep spices in the freezer; ever since then, my freezer has been so cluttered with all those little pots and jars that it drives my husband crazy. There’s also always a box of frozen whole-leaf spinach, a bag of frozen peas and several Parmesan rinds wrapped in tinfoil in there.

Pantry: Pasta, lots of different rice varieties (I’m obsessed with my rice cooker), grains, flours, baking ingredients, canned fish, dry beans, dried fruit, nuts, lots of bottles of vinegar, coconut milk, soy sauce and canned tomatoes.

Alexia Colson-Duparchy

Do you do the grocery shopping for your house yourself? How often? Do you usually buy from the farmers’ market, shops?

Luisa Weiss

I go grocery shopping almost every single day. I go to the farmer’s market for fruit, vegetables and farm eggs once or twice a week, but the rest of the time, I head to the stores in my neighborhood. It gives me an excuse to go outside with Hugo and since we live on the 4th floor without an elevator, I can’t do bulk shopping anyway. I get what I need that day and then I huff and puff my way up the stairs with the baby and the shopping bag. I go to Aldi for dried nuts and fruit, to the organic bakery for bread, and the Turkish grocer for fresh herbs and olives.

Continue reading »

Parents Who Cook: Michael Ruhlman

James and Michael
James and Michael, photographed by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Parents Who Cook is a Q&A series in which I ask my guests about how their cooking has changed after kids entered the picture, and pick their brains on their best strategies to cook with little ones underfoot.

Michael Ruhlman is an American writer who specializes in understanding the professional chef’s craft, and making that expertise accessible to the home cook.

He has published twelve books, including the best-selling French Laundry Cookbook and the game-changing Ratio, which reveals the cooking formulas that govern basic preparations so you can free yourself from recipes. His latest book is Ruhlman’s Twenty, about the twenty founding concepts and techniques of cuisine. He also writes an excellent blog at ruhlman.com.

Michael lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, photographer Donna Turner Ruhlman, and their two teenaged children. I am delighted to have him share his thought-provoking views on cooking with and for children.

Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?

Addison is 17 years old, her brother James is 13. She’s a handful, but beautiful and smart, fiercely independent, wants nothing more than to be out of the house and with her uncommonly sweet friends. James is a boy boy, loves gaming, having fun, and practical jokes. A sweetheart, delightful in conversation, very mature and empathetic.

Did having children change the way you cook?

No, not really. I was just learning to cook professionally, so I had all these extra cooking muscles to rely on. But I always cooked real food. I tried to cook real puréed food for them when they were little, but mostly what they’d prefer was the jarred stuff. Then they moved on to scrambled eggs and cheese, then all white food.

As they grew and their tastes and dislikes changed, I occasionally made three different meals simultaneously to please everyone. Because I could. Addison’s favorite meal is beef stir-fry, but James doesn’t like it, so I cut a chunk of flank steak to sauté, and slice the rest for stir-fry. I stir-fry bok choy or broccoli, but Addison avoids it and James will only eat it raw. That kind of thing. It makes for a lot of dishes to clean.

Do you remember what it was like to cook with a newborn? Any tips or saving grace for new parents going through that phase?

In the newborn years, try to schedule meal times for when they’re asleep or routinely occupied. If they’ll sit in a bouncy chair while you eat, so much the better. Donna often ate while she breastfed. Many many meals were interrupted, or concluded early.

The saving grace? It’s over before you know it. Days are long, years go by in a snap.

Be sure to plan at least one quiet meal with your spouse each week where you can linger at the table, even if it’s lunch.

Continue reading »

Draw Me A Fridge: Alexandre Cammas

Alexandre Cammas
Photography by Dustin Aksland.

For this new installment of our Draw Me A Fridge series (read about it here), Alexia spoke with Alexandre Cammas. (Interview conducted in French and translated by us.)

Food writer Alexandre Cammas is the creator of Le Fooding, a guide that helps you find the latest restaurants to get a great meal anywhere in France, and also organizes events in France and beyond. The Fooding 2013 guide can be ordered on the website.

What are your fridge staples?

Yogurts, eggs, compotes, cheeses, cured meats from Italy, Spain and Aveyron*, and plenty of leftovers for an impromptu meal.

In the freezer, I store good bread (in case I run out of fresh) and frozen pizzas from Enzo Pizza, a dodgy-looking pizzeria in my neighborhood that sells excellent homemade frozen pizzas. (I got the tip from Bertrand, the chef of bistro Les Papilles.) I also keep frozen homemade tomato sauce for an easy pasta dinner, ice cubes and olives for a summer Ricard, and bottles of San Pellegrino throughout the year.

Do you handle the grocery shopping yourself? How often and where do you go?

I go shopping on the weekend in my neighborhood with my family, mostly around rue Daguerre**. I buy meat from Hugo Desnoyer every now and then (it’s expensive!) and bread from the former Moisan bakery. There is also a fine cheese shop, an Italian deli (the lasagna is especially tasty) and a good fishmonger on the same street.

What is the most surprising thing in, or about your fridge?

The terrible mess that’s in there! You’re likely to find things gone bad in teeny-tiny shrink-wrapped containers that have been forgotten in the back. Also surprising: how bad it smells when there’s a slice of Appenzeller cheese in there. Even under a glass dome, the smell just grabs you!

Continue reading »

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.