Taste Bud Profile
Kelsey Barnard Clark
Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark believes that she—and many other members of her family—show their love for each other through cooking. For her, food is a powerful means for connection and engagement, and perhaps most importantly, for joy. There’s no better way to create excitement for a new experience than by being genuinely excited about it yourself—one of her many tips for families looking to go on their own food adventures.
Kelsey Barnard Clark: I think my love of cooking and feeding people definitely runs in my family—my mother didn’t love to cook, but my grandmothers and my great grandparents certainly did. My great-great-grandparents came to this country from Germany, and they opened a restaurant in Mobile, Alabama, which is on the water. They did what a lot of people do when they come to a new country—they don’t have any connections, so they open up a restaurant and serve the food they know. Except, they also worked with the food that was typical of that part of Alabama—fresh seafood from the Bay. So their food was traditional-German-food-meets-local-Southern-seafood—and these two things could not be more different. But you can flip through my great-great-grandma’s cookbook and see these twists on the foods she knew and the foods she cooked, and see that her life was influenced by culture through food. As I’ve grown up as well, I’ve become more and more obsessed with learning about culture through food, because I think everyone can connect over food.
I’m not really a hugger, nobody in my family is, but we show love through cooking. Recently, I had a friend going through a tough time, and her husband wanted to do something special for her. We threw her an incredible surprise lobster dinner, with all of her closest friends there to support and surprise her. She arrived and she had tears of joy streaming down her face, and we sat down and ate this incredible meal all together, and it brought joy to everyone present. And I thought about it this way—what gift could I have given her that would have had the same effect? I really don’t think there is one that compares to the feelings of togetherness and love through food. Also, I always try to make dishes that you have to eat with your hands. Not just because you have such a connection with the food—but because nobody can pick up their phones! Peeling shrimp, dipping things, taking apart artichokes—when your hands are preoccupied, you’re in the moment with the food and the people around you. That’s where the magic of connection happens.
My sister is an EMDR therapist, and the way she works with kids is by getting them to play and engage with all of their senses. One of those involves eating with your hands. It’s freeing and you’re allowed to be a little messy and you enjoy the experience, the comfort, and the food—and that’s when you open up. You’re allowed to let go. I think that is a magical and powerful thing about food.
People ask me all the time how I get my kids involved in food. The biggest factor for me is their own excitement.
And I think you build that in kids by being excited and energized and eager as an adult. If you’re not interested in what you’re eating, why should they be? When a parent asks me, ‘how do I get my kid to eat green beans?’ I ask, ‘how are you cooking them?’ Are they just dumped on a plate and warmed in the microwave? Does that sound like something that you’d want to eat? When I feed my kid vegetables, they’re things that I want to eat too. Everything is seasoned, there are different textures, and I’m excited to eat it all too. My son isn’t textbook ‘picky’, but he certainly has his opinions. But I’m telling you—when he sees me excited and thrilled to eat something, guess what he decides he wants to eat? So I guess my biggest advice is this—if you’re struggling to connect with your kid in the kitchen, or through food in general, try turning it around on yourself. What is it that you love? Where do you show the most genuine excitement and enthusiasm? Do that, cook that, eat that, and share it with your kid. They’ll latch on to it authentically. They’re always watching, and they’re intuitive. Remember that there’s always opportunity to connect over food, and seizing that opportunity with joy and excitement will be more fun for everybody.