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A Top Portland Chef’s Advice: Let Kids Cook What They Love to Eat

James Beard Award winner Gabriel Rucker talks rolling pasta, flipping burgers, making messes, and having a blast.

Gabe Rucker 2018
Photo by Stuart Mullenberg

Gabriel Rucker, the brains behind three of Portland, Oregon’s best restaurants—Le Pigeon, Canard, and Little Bird—also has three children, ages seven, five, and (almost) two. After he cooked a special kids’ tasting menu for some of Little Sous’s Kitchen Academy Kickstarter backers, we caught up with the chef to learn more about how he spends time with his family in the kitchen. (Check out the Little Sous guide to Portland’s best family-friendly restaurants and food adventures.)

Do your kids like to cook?

My seven-year-old son would rather play Legos. However, my daughter, who’s five, is really into food. I can take her anywhere. She’ll come into my restaurant and immediately walk down to the prep kitchen, pull up a stool, and start working. She’ll roll pasta for hours, or make desserts with the pastry department.

How did you get her interested in cooking?

I didn’t go fishing for it, to be honest. I just listen to my kids and help them follow what they’re interested in. If they want to help in the kitchen, I find something for them to do. As a parent, you’re frequently at a loss for what to do to entertain them. Always remember that you can make cooking fun, so it’s a great way to kill two birds.

What tasks do you have them help with?

I give them foods that they like to eat, and let them cook them. They like burgers? Ask them to wash their hands and make some patties. Help them flip a burger. Little things like that. Baking is also great for this. Make some muffins, have a blast, make a mess, laugh. Turn the iPad off and have some fun with it.

How do you approach kitchen safety with your kids?

I try to teach them safety without making them scared of the kitchen. I show them how to hold a knife, walk with a knife, use a knife. I have them practice cutting until they’re comfortable with it. I’ll buy a bunch of carrots—the baby ones are great for this—and make it a game: “Cut enough carrots to fill this container.”

My daughter just had her first kitchen injury. I sent her into the kitchen to cut a pear and the pear slipped and she cut her finger. She was hella tough about it, though. She asked me “have you ever had a chef boo-boo?”

Any advice on dining out with kids?

I have a standing joke that taking my kids out to eat is about as enjoyable as lighting $400 on fire and watching it burn. My kids aren’t amazing eaters just because I’m a chef. They’re normal kids. We go out for simple food: Olive Garden, pizza, stuff like that. When I’m eating with them, I don’t try to be a chef. I just try to be Dad. 

How do you address pickiness?

When it comes to food, I think all kids are picky. Mine are no exception, but I will say they love eating vegetables. Their ideal dinner would be broccoli, green beans, and rice. It just happened. My oldest really likes his veggies, so I think that trickled down to the others. I think the number one thing you can do to get kids to like a food is to have it around, and to keep trying. Don’t stop giving it to them. And please don’t tell them “you won’t like this.”

Gabe Rucker at Le Pigeon with the Little Sous crew

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