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Chef (and Dad!) Tyler Florence: The Kitchen Should Be a Place of Play

03/17/2011 at 10:00 AM ET

As father to three children under the age of 15, chef Tyler Florence knows a thing or two about catering to developing palates.

The Food Network star, who recently opened three Bay Area restaurants and wrapped his ninth cookbook, has his own line of gourmet baby food, and just joined forces with Alexia Foods to stress the importance of balanced meals.

We recently sat down with the 40-year-old — dad to Dorothy, 2 (left), Hayden, 3, and Miles, 14 — to garner his advice on cooking with your family.

Does being a dad influence your cooking?

It really does. Nobody cooks anymore. To me, to watch your parents cook, and to have a house that smells warm and delicious, is a very vital memory that I think kids don’t really have anymore. I think it’s important to recall … what you remember your grandmother making, where you’re from and the foods you enjoyed as a child yourself, and pass that information off to your kids.

Do your kids seem interested in the kitchen?

Without a doubt! We’ve actually taken the kitchen itself and turned it into a play area. I take the pots off my pot rack, make a little drum kit. We want them to see the kitchen as a place of play, because that’s what it really is, a place of imagination, a place of joy. As an adult, during parties, everyone hangs out in the kitchen, because it’s a place where everything seems to be OK. I think it’s very important that kids see that from their parents from the very beginning.

My son and daughter also have a play stove, which is right by mine, so they have little wooden fruit connected with Velcro, and they cut it, and they put it into a sauté pan, put it in the oven, put it on a plate and say, ‘Daddy, I made dinner!’ It’s adorable. And it’s one of those things that they’ll have a memory of for the rest of their lives — what great food, great cooking is all about. It’s a craft; something you do with your hands that gives you a brighter outlook on life.

Do you believe in picky eaters?

A good friend of mine, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, told me the most fascinating thing — that in our DNA there’s a primordial response to be afraid of food beginning at age 3. If you think about it from a prehistoric point of view, if you were out in the wild and your mother hadn’t shown you what was edible by the time you were 3 years old, wouldn’t you think at some point that it could hurt you?

Children, if they haven’t been introduced to foods by the time they’re 3 years old, are afraid of it, as if it would hurt them. They don’t really get out of that until they’re 6 or 7 — it’s a safety mechanism, and you’re not going to win.

What are parents doing wrong in the kitchen?

I think they give up too quickly. It’s about having the courage to cook — I think everyone’s terrified. Everything’s sort of a fast-food situation, where we go get it, or get it delivered, instead of heating up the stove, getting the sauté pans going, cooking something and roasting a chicken. These kinds of things children get very excited about. If parents could just stick with it a little bit longer, and say, ‘OK, two or three nights a week we’re going to cook at the house,’ that’s going to make a difference.

So I’d encourage parents to do it more — and cook with things that are as close to the source as possible. Cook potatoes that look like potatoes, cook chicken that looks like chicken — not a nugget stamped in the shape of a dinosaur. If parents can adopt that mantra — ‘I am in charge of my child’s nutritional well-being, I am responsible for this’ — I think they would have a clearer idea of what the right side of the road is, nutritionally.

I also get frustrated when parents say, ‘I hope my children make smart decisions.’ In our house, the only decision is a smart decision. There’s no high-fructose corn syrup, no soda. Keep fresh, natural ingredients and fresh things to drink on hand, and you won’t have to worry about that so much.

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Add A Comment

PEOPLE.com reserves the right to remove comments at their discretion.

Showing 15 comments

Ellie on

It looks like he is holding some chicken he is going to prepare…
Weird.

Katie on

THis site is nothing but negative comments anymore!! I love Tyler, what a total hottie!! Very nice guy!! Was that one of his babies? SO CUTE!

Sam on

@Ellie – when I read your post I LOL for real! You’re so right, that is what it looks like because of the way he is holding her. She is so tiny (is she two now?), also very calm and relaxed looking. A cute baby girl!

Amanda on

He is holding the baby kinda odd, but a very cute baby it is!

Sam on

@Katie – no it doesn’t. Have you been to those other sites where people are allowed to say terrible, nasty things? That doesn’t happen here. ‘Ellie’s’ comment was funny, bet if the chef read it even he had a good giggle. :)

Laura on

O my god Ellie I was going to say the same thing!! You make me chuckle.

Dara on

HAHA! I think everyone has carried their baby that way. When my oldest was an baby he had reflux really bad so he would spit up on me constantly. I took to carrying him like that to avoid him spitting up and the bonus was I didn’t have to wear spitup covered clothing most of the time. I love how expressive Dorothy’s little face is even as a newborn. I bet she’s a real personality now. =-)

MiB on

I thought it was kind of interesting, that what he said about picky eaters, when you think about it, it makes sense. Both because most picky eaters I have met have been between 3 and 6, and because 3 is the age where children really start having a sense of self preservation.

Marlee on

Cute picture!

Noelle on

Heck, that’s about the ONLY way my newborn son wanted to be held. He wanted to see what was going on and was not at all happy being snuggled up with his face in towards me.

Marissa on

My son loves his sprout food. Its a great line of baby food.

Pauline on

I love the way both their heads are tilted the same way and the same
facial expression!!
How cute is that!

Mia on

She looks exactly like her dad-same face/expression.

CelebBabyLover on

Katie- The baby in the picture is his youngest child: “We recently sat down with the 40-year-old — dad to Dorothy, 2 (left)”. :)

Toya L. on

That is the cutest picture and I agree with Pauline and Mia, she looks just like her dad in this photo.

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