Sometimes it seems as though yuppies are all in on an elaborate plot to keep others from procreating and providing more parental competition. The latest evidence: the child foodie movement.
First there was the 12-year-old "restaurant critic," David Fishman in New York City, whose "review" of a neighborhood salumeria somehow snared him huge coverage in his hometown paper and then a long appearance on the CBS morning show, replete with warnings that his power had local chefs quaking in their clogs. Next a 5-year-old, Julian Kreusser, was touted for his cooking show on public access television in Portland, Ore., with the Times of London warning that he might get a cookbook deal at an age when most kids need In the Night Kitchen read to them. Now the New York Times Magazine has pledged one-quarter of its monthly food real estate to the kitchen exploits of a 4-year-old, Dexter Wells, who just happens to be the firstborn of the newspaper's food editor, Pete Wells.
Beyond the patent absurdity of the phenomenon - biologically speaking, young children don't have the palates of adults and don't enjoy as large a range of flavors - and the apparent safety hazards of kids around sharp knives and flames, Schrambling objects to this because it's quite obviously done for the benefit of other adults. After all, these kids, however advanced, are neither finding their own ways around the kitchen nor distributing their own recipes. No one is decrying children taking an interest in good food or experimenting in the kitchen. On the contrary, it should be encouraged. Which is not to say that children should be lecturing to adult gourmets, which is less about addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity than telling other parents how advanced these kids are.
I'm willing to set aside the annoying narcissism of parents who believe they have spawned a cross between Ferran Adria and Brillat-Savarin. On a larger scale, the trend emphasizes the worst of the food frenzy today: the celebration of celebrity and novelty over authenticity and seriousness. Julia Child was 50 years old before she flipped her first omelet on television. She got that gig only after studying at the Cordon Bleu and then devoting 10 years to perfecting Mastering the Art of French Cooking with two collaborators. Today chefs barely out of high school are competing on reality cooking shows, and the bar keeps being lowered, with Internet exposure for every little Thomas Keller. The movement devalues the very subject it pretends to celebrate.
If the author's objection is largely philosophical and aesthetic, mine is practical. After all, it is this kind of thing that has made cooking, which should be inherently democratic, the currency of wealth and "lifestyle" - just what we don't need. In order for a love of good food and the ensuing economic and health benefits to really go national, the idea of adult cooking has to be divested of just this taint of preciousness. Kids should and will continue to cook and explore, but in a different realm from adults - as a means of learning and playing, just as it's always been. I hope that'll be enough for their parents.