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Baby Food Chef Series: Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo
The award-winning duo love cheese and cake, just like the rest of us.
In the diapered land of baby brigades, many iconic duos exist: peas and carrots, Bert and Ernie, Mr. Rogers and his cardigans.
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, aka Jon and Vinny, the wildly successful– and James Beard award-winning– chefs, are the newest pair to join the pack.
These two dudes sit atop a culinary empire, including Jon & Vinny’s, Animal, Son of a Gun, and Petit Trois. But with their Yumi collaboration, they’ve managed to merge the world of Bib Gourmand with little bibbed gourmands (aka, babies).
Read on as the two discuss their own eating habits, 2021 food forecasting, and why even world-renowned chefs have a hard time getting their kids to eat veggies.
Are there certain smells or flavors of your childhood that influenced your feelings about food?
JON: Mangos, papayas, bananas, and sugar cookies. I didn’t have any feelings about food until my teens. It specifically happened when I had real mashed potatoes for the first time. As a baby of the ‘80s, I grew up with spuds in a box, and where I lived had little food culture. But, when I had real mashed potatoes, I knew I had to learn how to make them.
VINNY: Wow, so many. The smell of oranges because I used to live near an orange grove. The grove processed and turned oranges into orange juice and they used to sell a soft-serve creamsicle twist (orange and vanilla). I would go all the time until after high school. Another smell of my childhood is an Italian deli. My family used to always go in all the time and get products.
Do you have any early memories in the kitchen you can share?
JON: My earliest memory of cooking something was instant brownies with my older brother for my mom’s birthday. My brother misread the instructions and instead of baking for 30 minutes and resting for 2 hours, my brother baked them for 2 hours. We totally ruined our mom’s favorite baking dish!
VINNY: I was always in the kitchen. I used to love licking the beaters when my dad would make mashed potatoes or bake a cake. My grandmother used to set up a little fryer in the backyard and made me fry the french fries.
If we were to travel back in time, and five-year-old you were to make us a dish, what would it be?
JON: Tuna melt – this was the first thing that I learned to make myself at home.
VINNY: I used to be obsessed with making nachos. I would melt the cheese on the chips in the microwave.
Did you have feelings about baby food prior to collaborating with Yumi?
JON: I had a lot of feelings about baby food because I would always taste my kid’s baby food before feeding it to them. I tasted a lot of baby food and the thing that was always so shocking to me was just how “baby” the food was. I loved our first collaboration with Yumi where we could introduce “adult” flavors to kids.
VINNY: I ate baby food all the way until I was a teenager. I used to love this plum baby food made by Gerber that I used to just eat. I thought it tasted so good.
Have those feelings shifted after developing blends for our littlest friends?
JON: We factor in introducing adult flavors.
VINNY: Still love baby food – might love it even more now! I like to think about feeding children good food as early as possible.
Do you think it’s important for babies to “eat the rainbow” as we say (aka, eat more than pouch peas and carrots)?
JON: 100%. With my kids, I also never fear or shun the not-so-nutrient items like sugar. I just try to control their portion sizes. For me, I don’t mind if they have ice cream as long as it’s a controlled amount.
VINNY: Of course. I think it’s important to expose them to as many things as they will absorb.
Did your relationship with food change once you had kids of your own?
JON: Yes, I found myself eating more foods that kids like. I backed down on some of the spice and I find myself eating things I hadn’t in a long time.
VINNY: Of course. I had to make things, considering their palate. I cook a lot of simple things for them. I also cook less complex things for myself than I did before.
Do award-winning chefs have a hard time getting their kids to eat veggies too?
JON: When my wife makes it – yes, but when I cook it – no, but I season with salt. If you make vegetables taste good, it won’t matter that it’s a vegetable.
VINNY: Yes and no. Kids like to take a stance on what they like, but if you keep putting it in front of them, they’ll eventually try it and hopefully like it.
Any tricks for getting tots to eat healthy foods?
JON: The trick that I did with both of my kids is that when I began introducing new foods, I gave them one drop of soda. Now they’ll always try something because they know it could be really good! I have more difficulty now with my 5-year-old son eating proteins because he mostly enjoys eating vegetables, pasta, rice, or salads.
VINNY: Pretend it’s an airplane.
What is your favorite midnight snack?
JON: It really depends on my mood, but lately I have been snacking on blackberries. But really, depending on what’s keeping me up so late, it could be leftover Thai food, cereal, or a pb&j sandwich.
VINNY: Dark chocolate.
What’s the one food you know is SO good for you, but you just can’t bring yourself to eat it.
JON: Kale. I have an actual intolerance for brassicas vegetables.
VINNY: I really do love healthy food. I have a hard time with fermented fish like herring, but I like sardines and stuff like that.
Any food forecasting for 2021?
JON: I think that as restaurants are allowed to serve again, people will want and crave the experience of going out to eat. Hopefully, by the end of the year!
VINNY: If we’re allowed to serve in restaurants, people will come back for great food, but with really great hospitality. The experience will go a long way.
What is the food we should all be eating this year?
VINNY: More cake!
Get Yumi x Jon & Vinny’s best-selling Polenta Mushroom Bolognese here.