Date: October 30, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist


+ Cooking for Kids
When I was a kid, my parents, wonderful, inventive and artistic cooks, not only gave me so-called adult food, they also let me help out in the kitchen. We not only ate really well, we all loved devising new recipes, never to be quite the same again.

Then I had sleepover dates with girlfriends and found they were not only eating dinner earlier and at the children’s table, they were eating spaghetti that came in tins, mystery meats smothered in more mysterious sauces and bland, tasteless things I pushed around my plate.

Now there’s Larry Barrett of Simply Gourmet Caterers. Chef Larry, who’s cooked for U.S. presidents and heads of state, has taken on an even more important challenge: cooking for children.

“I started cooking for myself when I was seven, so the first child I cooked for was myself,” says Chef Larry, whose Grandma Minnie was a fantastic cook and instilled a culinary passion in him. “I became a professional chef at 22. When it was time for our son, Dylan, to go off to kindergarten, we were shocked to see that the bar had not been raised on public school food. We knew right then we wanted to contribute to creating better cuisine for kids. When Sarasota’s Church of the Palms preschool called us regarding preparing lunches for them, it was like a sign from above.

“Adults know what they like,” he says, “but kids are still open to new tastes. When cooking for adults, I marry many flavors together and the dish becomes the sum of the parts. I keep the kids’ food very simple, not marrying too many flavors. Keeping the tastes simpler for the kids helps me isolate what they really enjoy.”

Who’s fussier? “A child alone with family can be a real problem. Food can sometimes become a weapon, a way to manipulate. But adults are fussy in their own way. The older we get, the more we become creatures of habit. At the Church of the Palms, all the students eat the same meal. When they see their peers enjoying lunch, the world is a beautiful and organized place.

“The only way to get kids to enjoy food is to expose them to all the good stuff — fresh foods with texture, taste and color. The more diverse their culinary experience, the more they can appreciate not just food, but other cultures.”

Kids aren’t the only ones who can sample and enjoy Chef Larry’s cuisine. His headquarters, Simply Gourmet Caterers, is located at 4783 Swift Road, and can be reached at 941-929-0066.

+ Learning to Cook as an Adult
Chef Jeremy Hammond-Chambers and Chef Danny Gibbons have started “Innovative Dining,” a series of cooking classes at 1725 Barber Road in, of all places, Finecraft Cabinetry, where there’s a demo kitchen with space to sit and enjoy the show, as well as the cuisine.

Recipes and how to cook them properly are not just demonstrated; the results are served, accompanied by wines, all for $70 per event. In November, the chefs take a look at Mexican recipes by the talented chef and cookbook author, Rick Bayless; and there’s a Fall Vegetarian Class. In December, they explore the olive oils of Spain, France, Italy and Greece. And, later, they look at great recipes from modern Japanese culture via the splendid skills of Nobu.

Seating is limited to 16 per class, so you’re sure to get personalized attention and your questions will be easily answered. For reservations, call 941-378-1901 or go to http://innovative-dining.com/.

+ Eat Here Out There
Eat Here, the exceedingly inventive restaurant that’s fun and fancy-free, is more than a friendly neighborhood hangout. It’s one of the best places in town for great cuisine at pocket-friendly prices. We were in the newest branch on Siesta Key a couple of weeks ago and got to meet the entire cast of characters who make up this personal place, starting with its heart and soul, Sean Murphy.

This flamboyant restaurateur loves what he does, from socializing with his patrons and making sure his original concept is never diminished, to working with his chefs to ensure high-quality cuisine infused with creativity. Although there are now three Eat Here establishments — Holmes Beach, Main Street Sarasota and Siesta Key — this is not a chain restaurant where everything is like a carbon copy of what you’ve had before.

“Things change all the time, even the weather,” Murphy told us at dinner. And he’s right. How many times have you made your favorite recipe and it’s come out tasting different because it was an especially humid day and you had to adjust the cooking time or the recipe, itself.

But, when it comes down to it, Murphy knows the food we love. Not Mama’s pot roast is just what Mama ordered. And Eat Here’s island-style ribs will keep you coming back to, well, Eat Here.

+ Quick Bites
Polo Grill, in Lakewood Ranch, has a new executive chef. Stephane Pierre, the 44-year-old Belgian-born chef who started in the business cleaning fish at a Brussels restaurant, has put on his Top Toque and is just about ready for the re-launching of the Polo Grill in just a few days.

“Chef Pierre is an exciting and welcome addition to the Polo Grill family,” says Tommy Klauber, the restaurant’s chef and proprietor. 

Taste of Asia is now open in its new digs at 4413 S. Tamiami Trail. The restaurant, most recently on Siesta Key, needed more space to accommodate its devoted clientele, and its new full bar. There’s also abundant parking and both indoor and outdoor dining. Chef Lam’s family says, just ask for what you want. “If Lam can, he will.”

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