Emeril's There's A Chef In My Soup!: Recipes for the Kid in Everyone
Published by HarperCollins
242 pages, 2002
Buy it online
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
If you've only ever watched him briefly -- say while flipping channels and catching a couple of minutes of his show -- you might not think that Emeril Lagasse is such a natural choice to be authoring a cookbook for kids. However, fans understand that the bluster is only television set-deep. While first impressions might indicate a chef who is all noise and bluster, regular viewers know the truth: Emeril Lagasse loves food as well as people of all sizes. Those that read his Emeril's There's A Chef In My Soup will also learn the way that food connects family is important to him, as well. In a note to parents in Chef In My Soup, Lagasse writes:
In the end, the most important thing is that your kids have had fun, they've created something all their own, and you've spent time together as a family. ... Cook together, eat together, and be together -- you'll give your child the real gift of memories that will be with them always.
With the preliminaries out of the way, Lagasse sets about creating a real cookbook, though entirely aimed at youngsters. He starts with a few basic safety rules (ask permission, never cook by yourself, be careful, ask for help and so on) and a legend for symbols found throughout the book that indicates when a recipe requires adult supervision, the use of sharp objects, the use of electrical appliances, cooking or handling hot objects. "The Nuts and Bolts" is one of those basic tool sections often found in good beginner level cookbooks for adults, but seldom in books aimed at children. And how valuable! Many adults, for instance, don't know the difference between a chef's knife and a bread knife: now those adults can have their kids tell them. In "Let's Get Started" Lagasse instructs children on performing the most basic yet oft-used techniques. How to wash vegetables, peel fruits and vegetables, how to chop anything, mince garlic, core an apple, grease a pan and other kitchen basics that too many home chefs of all ages don't properly understand.
Most of the book, however, is devoted to the actual preparation of actual food: i.e., the recipes the kids are looking for. Here, too, things are sensibly organized: by meal type rather than difficulty or food group. And so, we begin with breakfast (Emeril's Favorite French Toast, Kicked-Up Scrambled Eggs, Cinnamon Toast of Love, etc.) then go on to "It-Isn't-Rocket-Science Salads" (not a lot of heat-based cooking here), followed by "'P' Is for Pizza and Pasta," then "What's For Lunch" and so on through to desserts and finally "Basics," which include Simple Syrup, Toasting Things, Baby Bam (a junior version of "Emeril's Original Essence") and Whipped Cream.
What delights here is the depth of recipes included. Children know when they're being talked down to. A cookbook that consists largely of different types of untoasted sandwiches (no fire hazards) and different types of pita-based pizzas (no real cooking) talks down to kids. They say: you're a child, you have no kitchen skills and, even if you did, they'd be wasted on you because you don't have depth of taste. Chef In My Soup says none of that. The recipes range from extremely simple (Simply Sensational Tuna Salad, Yummy Wake-Up Smoothies, Fresh-And-Fruity Freeze Pops) to those that could find their way easily into many family's regular repertoire (Pokey Brownies, Now-You're-Talkin' Mashed Potatoes, Lean Mean Turkey Loaf) to a few that would be quite complicated for many adult home chefs (Sweet Potato-Praline Marshmallow Casserole, Seriously Chocolaty Cheesecake, Junior's Jambalaya). The result is a book that offers children infinite possibilities. A book that presents children with the idea that they can create some pretty sophisticated stuff with very little help from adults. And even if Mom has to supervise, Fiesta Quesadillas with Simple Salsa and Holy Guacamole, or Ka-Bam Kabobs are going to make a pretty swell offering for Mother's Day or Dad's birthday.
Throughout the book, Emeril encourages, advises and then sets things out very simply. Charles Yuen's loose and colorful illustrations are appropriately cheerful: especially since every time Emeril's face is demanded in an illustration, it's an appropriately expressioned photo stuck on to cartoon torsos in action poses. Very clever and entirely well done.
Emeril's There's A Chef In My Soup is precisely the children's cookbook you'd expect from Lagasse. Cheerful, positive, helpful and, above all, completely about the enjoyment of food through its preparation. This thorough introduction to the kitchen is highly recommended. | April 2002
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.