Ask A Chef is an on-going series in which 5280 poses a single question to a local culinary luminary.
When, several weeks ago, superchef Grant Achatz tweeted about a possible baby ban at his upscale Chicago eatery, Alinea, parents and restaurateurs alike joined the discussion. Should small children be allowed to dine alongside their haute-palated parents, or are they best left at home? For a chef’s take on the issue, 5280 asked Denver chef Nelson Perkins, owner of Colt & Gray, Ste. Ellie, and Viande Colorado Charcuterie (and a father of three children ages 6, 8, and 10), to comment. There’s a time and a place, says Perkins. (Bonus: For those get-a-sitter moments, the Denver chef offered his recipe for kid-pleasing meatloaf.)
5280: Which rules should parents follow when bringing children to a fine dining establishment?
NP: This is a tricky question. Whatever the answer, I am bound to aggravate someone. We have been known to dine out with our children all over the world. What it really comes down to is child behavior. Much like we might ask unruly customers to alter their behavior or leave, this is the best approach for children. You just have to be a bit gentler, as parents tend be very protective and take criticism of their children personally.
As a rule, parents should understand their child and how he or she will behave in a fine dining environment. If you don’t think your child can or will behave appropriately, get a babysitter. If the child understands boundaries when in a more subdued public situation, then he or she should be welcomed and even encouraged. I’ve found that at Colt & Gray, the vast majority of our young diners come in early, when the restaurant is often less crowded. I think that’s a good policy for parents with young children to follow. It really comes down to respecting others.
For my kids, Colt & Gray is like a second home. They know every inch of it and have been known, on occasion, not to show it the respect it and its patrons deserve. They’ve even been called out in a dining review. However, when the behavior is inappropriate we make every effort to correct it and if it is not corrected, they go home.
“My kids don’t love their veggies so I try to sneak them in where I can, like in the following meat loaf recipe. It’s a little extra effort but it’s worth it,” Perkins says.
1 white onion
1 stalk celery
1 cup mushrooms
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ pounds ground beef
1½ pounds ground pork
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/3 cup tomato sauce (or ketchup)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2½ cups panko breadcrumbs
Combine the onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms, parsley, thyme, and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the vegetable mixture to the pan and cook until very soft and most of the liquids have evaporated; you don’t want a wet mixture. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the beef, pork, eggs, milk, soy sauce, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetables and the bread crumbs and with clean hands, gently toss the mixture together, making sure it's combined but not compacted.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Pat the meat into a flat rectangle and then press the sides in until it forms a cylinder down the middle of the pan (this will ensure no air pockets). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the middle reads 155°–160°. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.