As an older guy I have had a few marriages but no kids of my own (that I know of anyway.) Yet I have never hesitated to express many opinions over the yeas here on Huffington about the upbringing of children. So when I read on the Internet about a new book which deals with this subject, I immediately ordered COOKING WITH ELLAMARIE, CELEBRITIES AND KIDS (Amazon and Barnes & Noble, about $37). After reading the large coffee table-sized book from cover to cover, I arranged to have lunch with the author (and one of her lovely daughters) in Beverly Hills to explore the subject further. You see, one of my strongest beliefs is that children should be taught to cook - and eat - from the earliest age. By teaching them to 'eat,' I mean that they should be encouraged to eat anything and everything from infancy. I know that growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I had never been exposed to any number of foods which I would have enjoyed and which I didn't encounter until I was thrust out into the world at age 19 and went to Korea in the U.S Army......oh, my, such new foods - Mexican, Southern, avocados and artichokes, so many ethnic foods. (Chinese doesn't count; all Jewish kids grew up eating an Americanized version of that cuisine every Sunday night.)
Wanna hear something nuts.....but kinda nice? Eleven years ago this charming Sicilian/Italian woman, Ellamarie Fortenbach, a native of Dallas now living in San Carlos, California, raising three young daughters and married to Erik, an accountant, decided to write a cookbook about celebrities cooking with their kids. A pretty good idea actually. But she had no idea how to go about it so instead of writing a prospectus, getting a literary agent and then finding a publisher who might give her an advance, then writing the book.....she just dug in and decided to do it herself. Crazy.
This book features succulent and simple recipes along with personal stories and words of wisdom and encouragement. Imagine what it took to reach out to a few dozen celebrities she didn't know asking them to roll up their sleeves and cook at home with their families, all under the watchful gaze of a photographer and Ella. Yet she somehow ended up with 25 celebrities and executives and their families. Danny Glover, Kevin Sorbo, Ed Begley, Jr., Eva La Rue and...amazingly....legendary Chef Thomas Keller (making his famed herb gnocchi). Other participants in the book with kids and relatives are: Joey & Hunter King, Jennette McCurdy with Debra (making ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta), Justine & Kerris Dorsey, Brian White (making a fabulous Mediterranean Paella), Peyton & Spencer List, Maria Canals-Barrera (cooking a Cuban Chicken Fricasse with her family), Kenton Duty doing a Crème Brulee, Rock 'n Roller Don Felder, Elizabeth Rohm, Marisa and Dean Zanuck (members of a family I have known all my life, here making Fettucini Alfredo), Sammi Hanratty, the Ochoas, China Anne, Leo Howard, Lauren Tom, Michael Orland (the legend behind American Idol), Renee O'Connor, Steve Azar, Jack McGee, Genevieve Goings, Sammi Hanratty, all with truly incredible illustrations. This book is a composite of two miracles: one that it got published at all, and second, that it turned out so magnificently.
I asked her about her upbringing, and she told me that she grew up in a home where family dinners were a priority. Her grandparents had various ethnic restaurants including Italian where, as a young girl, she spent long hours in the kitchen watching them and their cooks making traditional recipes. One of my shout-outs to parents has always been....teach your kids to cook from the earliest age...even if it's only to boil water, make scrambled eggs, cook pasta and make salads, hamburgers and sandwiches. Ellamarie smiled and told me that she runs Chez Le Petit Chef, a cooking school in San Carlos, Ca. that focuses on child chefs: "Our mission is to create a culinary learning experience for children in a safe, nurturing environment." She went on to tell me that half of her book sales goes to A World Fit for Kids, a non-profit organization for Los Angeles public schools, promoting kids to stay in school and teaching them about heathy foods (www.worldfitforkids.org).
I admit that I didn't know about half of the celebs she featured in her book, but I gather that her three smart young daughters - Foustine, Solange, and Satiene had a great deal to do with selecting the stars who they sought out and sold on the project. The opening pages feature Danny Glover cooking with his grandson, Adesola, baking delicious chocolate chip cookies. I mentioned that in 1971 I used Danny Glover for a small but vital role my Billie Holiday movie, "Lady Sings the Blues." (He played the guy who attacks a young Billie in Baltimore.) And environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. played a cop in my Billy Wilder-directed 1981 film, "Buddy Buddy", with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Even in those days Ed was driving an electric car. Chef Thomas Keller, proprietor of The French Laundry and Per Se, participated with his niece, Elisabeth Le Roux, making his legendary herbed gnocchi.
Kevin Sorbo, who has known her for 30 years, wrote: "Ellamarie provided a fun, wild, wacky afternoon for my family in my own kitchen. My wife Sam and I had a blast making crepes and making a mess with our kids. Best part was eating them." He called her the most tenacious woman he knows. At lunch, Ellamarie told me that cooking and eating does involve some inherent dangers...sharp tools, hot stoves, allergic reactions, and food poisoning are only some of the potential risks, and said that all kids should cook with adult supervision. All through the book she emphasizes safety-first, a very good goal. I was deeply impressed by the daughter, Foustene, who had joined us...soon to return to Emerson College in Boston where she is studying film-making. She told me about the situation at their home when her grandmother, suffering from early dementia, had been welcomed by the girls and made to feel comfortable. She's still there. When the young woman told me that she was studying film production, I advised her that the education was essential but a job as a production assistant on a picture would be the most practical process. (I'll give her such a job on my next picture.)
Ellamarie's goal with this book was to unite cooking and family as a means of bonding and keeping those relationships special. She visited each and every celebrity in their homes and photographed them as they made major messes in the kitchen, shared laughs, created meals in the name of having quality meal time together. She is now preparing a second such book and I strongly advise all celebs, agents and managers to cooperate with her in the making of the new book....it will be such fun for all.
Ellamarie has poured her heart and soul into the making of this book, not to mention the time, travel and expenses. An eleven-year journey has been packaged neatly into this beautiful tome, and I strongly recommend that you order a copy, get in the kitchen with your kids, share laughs and food and let your kids know you love them. In closing, some suggestions from her: Establish family meal times as a priority! Prepare meals together. Make family meal times enjoyable. And don't label foods as good or bad. Variety and moderation are the key. Bon appetite.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at email@example.com.