Now you can become a better cook for little ones, even picky eaters!
Larry Barrett, the owner of Simply Gourmet catering in Sarasota, has crafted gourmet food for Hollywood stars and New York’s theatre elite during his years in the food/hospitality industry. His creative and elegant wedding dishes and re-creations of famous presidential dinners are renowned. But, the chef says few things give him as much personal pleasure as supplying lunch everyday for a local pre-school.
Barrett has been catering to the taste buds of tots for nearly 15 years and although it provides only about five percent of income for the catering business, Barrett says he’d never give it up. “Just about every day I learn something new from these kids,” he reveals, “and there is nothing in the world like the excitement and adulation you get from these youngsters when they come running out to the truck screaming ‘what’s for lunch.’ And, of course there’s no more honest food critic than a young child. I’ve found they are pretty willing to try anything especially in a group setting with their peers, but ifthey’re not happy with it, they let you know immediately and dramatically.”
One of Barrett’s lessons came early in the relationship when he made macaroni and cheese from scratch for the children. “They didn’t like it,” he remembers. “And I don’t think it was the taste, it was the color. All kids by the time they get to pre-school believe that mac and cheese has to be orange. I learned I could successfully get kids to eat my homemade recipe, it just had to be orange. And we all know we can either blame or credit Kraft for that.”
Larry Barrett is willing to share his recipes and tips for successfully feeding toddlers and pre-school children at home and is available for interviews for print and broadcast media.
Barrett says when he was offered this catering opportunity over a decade ago, it brought back memories of his school lunches. “They were memorable because they were so atrocious,” he says. “When my son went to school I was shocked to see the bar had not been raised regarding children’s cuisine. So, with our pre-school clients I decided to make a difference in what these kids would eat for the rest of their lives.”
The chef says that when preparing food for pre-schoolers, always think taste, texture and color. “I don’t hold back, because I want the kids to discover new tastes that might be out of their comfort zones,” he emphasizes. “Besides the usual spices – salt, pepper, garlic and basil, I also slowly introduce the kids to oregano, thyme, sage and even smokey ancho chili without the heat. It’s easy to do that with pasta dishes because all kids love pasta, mostly because it’s hand friendly. They don’t need a fork or spoon. Here’s a tip for parents, serve the pasta al dente. Kids don’t like slimy textures. That’s one reason they seldom take to undercooked mushrooms. They don’t like the texture or the gray/brown color. But, it you caramelize the mushrooms, it’s a whole different story.”
Barrett has also observed over the years that children are more willing to try new tastes if they eat in a group setting among their peers. They taste, react and gain comfort and confidence from the rest of the group. For that same reason Barrett is a great believer in family sit-down dinners every night. Good food should be a shared experience.
To set up an interview with Larry Barrett, caterer to tiny gourmands, please contact Judi Gallagher at 941-780-2898.
Chicken a la King
This is the ultimate meal for pre schoolers. It has all the elements for a great meal, creamy sauce, crunchy vegetables, satisfying roast chicken (it’s a great comfort dish). Serve with rice, noodles or on toast points. When mixed with rice and cooked for a few minutes this dish takes on the taste and texture of risotto. It also makes a great chicken noodle casserole. One recipe three dishes, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Serves 6 Adults (12 Children/18 Pre K)
5 cups chicken Stock
8 tbsp. Flour
6 tbsp. Butter
Salt/white pepper (to taste)
2 stalks celery (medium dice)
1 onion (medium dice)
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 lb. roasted boneless/skinless chicken breast (medium dice)
1 cup peas/diced carrots
½ cup pearl onions
½ red pepper (small dice)
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
¼ cup heavy cream
In a large saucepan melt the butter and sauté the onion, celery and garlic with a tablespoon of water. When the water evaporates and the vegetables are tender, add the flour and cook for a minute or two. Whisk in the chicken stock, add the bay leaf and thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes (skim if necessary). Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Add the cooked chicken, peas/carrots, pearl onions and red pepper~bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Add the cream and whisk. Season with salt/white pepper. Add more stock to thin to desired consistency if necessary, or a little more roux to thicken if necessary. Garnish with chives. Serve with long grain rice, noodles or toast points. Note: For grownups, add a little sherry and a few sautéed mushrooms.
Penne con Broccoli
It’s amazing how much kids love this dish. Full flavored with garlic and Italian herbs. I love watching, as they explore this meal for the first time, picking up the little broccoli florets and eating them. The kids call the broccoli little trees. I keep the broccoli slightly crunchy by a technique called “shocking.” The bright green, red and white are beautiful and also the color of the Italian flag. A delicious dish and a geography lesson!
Serves 6 Adults (12 Children/18 Pre K)
1 lb. penne pasta (cooked al dente)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large onion (medium dice)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 lb. broccoli florets (trimmed/washed)
6 Roma tomatoes (medium dice)
Salt/black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. dried basil
2 tbsp. dried oregano
¼ cup chicken stock
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley (finely chopped)
Sauté onions/garlic in butter, olive oil and the chicken stock. Cook until soft and stock has almost evaporated. Drop the broccoli florets into boiling water. In a minute when bright green drain the broccoli in a colander. Add a few cups of ice to the broccoli to stop the cooking (this will set the color and is called “shocking”). Add spices, sautéed onion, broccoli and tomatoes to the pasta in a mixing bowl and mix well. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Heat again in sauté pan before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with Parmesan cheese. Note: For grownups~
Add some red pepper flakes and ¼ cup white wine when sautéing the onion.