Visit any restaurant and you’re likely to find the same standbys on the kids menu—pizza, burgers, and chicken fingers. That’s not exactly a recipe for expanding kids’ palates. But how are young restaurant patrons expected to wade through ingredients like La Tur, Sottocenere, and Roquefort (hint: all cheeses found on Blackbelly Market’s charcuterie menu) and make dinner decisions they won’t regret?
Enter Kids’ Kritics, a restaurant review website created by Maryn and Colter Heap—the 13-year-old twins of chef Bradford Heap, owner of Colterra, Salt, and Wild Standard. Kids’ Kritics started as a project for the twins’ homeschool curriculum with a review of the Chautauqua Dining Hall in September 2016. Since then, the duo has reviewed 11 spots in the Boulder area, taste-testing a variety of dishes that wouldn’t normally appeal to kids. “Our mission is to help kids jump outside the kids’ menu to the normal menu to try new and strange items,” Colter says.
So far, the Heap twins have tackled casual spots like Falafel King to higher-end eateries like Blackbelly Market, run by Top Chef-winner Hosea Rosenberg, and even their dad’s spot, Wild Standard. They each bring along a small notebook to quickly jot down thoughts during their meal, following a predetermined set of questions to ensure that they’re reviewing each restaurant on the same grounds. “We treat each restaurant as a science experiment, as we always try to compare the same things (decor, menu, price, etc.),” Colter says. Soon, they may alter their process to use their phones to take notes instead, as it has become “less taboo” to have a phone at the table.
Once the dishes are cleared, the real work begins. Colter and Maryn write separate reviews of the restaurant and their meals—the twins admit they have different tastes; Maryn is a vegetarian and a little bit picky, while Colter is an avid meat-eater with an adventurous palate. Then, they work through the editing and publishing process with their homeschool teacher, Linda Schwartz. Because the twins are just in eighth grade, the restaurant reviews—along with all of the work that comes with publishing online—is a lesson in balancing, organization, meeting deadlines, and producing a solid final product. They don’t get “grades” on this ongoing project, but they do go through readers’ comments—submitted via the “contact us” button on the website—as part of their process. “Writing something relevant gives these kids a whole different type of motivation,” Schwartz says. “Beyond learning how to become excellent diners, their writing has blossomed knowing outside people are reading.”
More than 2,300 unique visitors have come to the Kids’ Kritics website so far. But restauranteurs don’t need to worry about getting a bad review. Colter and Maryn are focused on “driving kids to the good eats” no matter where their parents choose to dine. They’ve learned that if they—and other kids—are less reluctant to test their tastebuds when they have a full menu at their disposal, they’ll find new foods that they enjoy. Whether it’s deciphering different salsas at T/aco or pointing out the finer points of table manners at Frasca Food and Wine, the Heap twins are educating themselves—and other kids—about food, while improving their dining skills in the process.