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Greg Johnson gets a lot of use out of his Rainier Beach kitchen. A professionally trained chef, for the past two decades Johnson has cooked


Talking Shop with Chef and Father's Greg Johnson

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Greg Johnson gets a lot of use out of his Rainier Beach kitchen. A professionally trained chef, for the past two decades Johnson has cooked in L.A., San Francisco, Hawaii, Mexico, and Seattle. Currently working in private kitchens, he's the man behind Chef and Father, a member-based website that offers recipes and more than 100 how-to videos focused on getting kids involved in preparing and eating simple, fresh food.

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Johnson launched Chef and Father back in 2008 and released a DVD about cooking for kids. Alongside daughters Finnley and Ellory, he whips up all sorts of from-scratch meals and records the process, uploading at least four new videos per month. Membership fees are set at two bucks a month, which covers costs and keeps the site ad-free. Here, Johnson shares how he gets kids into cooking, explains why he doesn't believe in hiding veggies, and more.

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How have you made cooking and eating exciting for your family??

You know, I don't really make it exciting. I like it to just be normal. We cook real food everyday. That is just the way it is. When I think back to my great grandma's time, they didn't make cooking exciting...they just did it. I am trying to get my family in that mindset, where it's not some novelty or big deal. We just cook and eat. That is how we live. Going to the farmers market is not some event. It is just what we do on Wednesdays or Saturdays.

What are some easy meals kids can help prepare?

I find that anything that involves homemade dough is really great. Kids watch it grow and come alive. First, it is a lesson in patience, waiting for it to proof, then kneading and shaping it. It's really just like any craft project. Kids love using their hands and having fun. But then the magic happens. We pull that hot beautiful bread out of the oven and it is something they made with their own two hands. You can't beat that feeling or taste. You can't make bad bread with that much love.

At my house, my girls cook everything with me. They love to measure things, mix, stir, or whatever. They get up on the counter and we make it happen. It is messy sometimes, but I am a firm believer that when kids are involved in the process of cooking they are more open to trying new foods.

Any tips for getting kids to eat veggies? Do you hide them in sauces, etc., or tell your kids straight out that they're eating broccoli?

I don't believe in hiding or deceiving. If you cook a beet enough to be able to puree it and sneak a little into some brownies that doesn't really do anything. I just make food the way I eat it. I wouldn't eat a pasta dish with plain pasta, side of sauce, side of vegetables, side of meat and shredded cheese. I would mix all that together. That is how I serve it to my kids. No options. I am the chef. One technique I use a lot, though, is a cheese grater. Shredded veggies mixed into a dish works much better than forcing them to choke down two big chunks of over-steamed broccoli. I eat a ton of veggies, so I just lead by example and don't make a big deal out of it. Plus, we juice every morning so they get a lot of the raw veggie vitamins before we even get to school.

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There is a lot of good, organic baby food on the shelves these days. Is it really better to make the stuff instead of buying it?

They always say that when you have a baby that your whole life changes. So, what better time to start making cooking a habit as a family? My girls sat on the counter and watched as I made their baby food just like they do now as we make school lunches or dinner. I am happy there are high quality choices for baby food in stores but they cannot replace that time in the kitchen with your family.

How can you feed kids healthy food in the winter months?

I don't feel that eating healthy is a seasonal thing. There's always an abundance of healthy foods. In the winter we just modify the food based on what is available and modify our cooking techniques based on those ingredients. Winter is squashes, greens, root vegetables and such, so those foods lend themselves to more soups and stews. And guess what? That is what you want to eat in the winter anyway, right? Nature has all this figured out already.

Do you garden? If so, how can kids help in the planning and participate in cold weather?

Yes, we have a pretty decent sized organic garden in the backyard even though we live in the city. I don't see any reason for a bunch of open space in the yard if that space can be used to grow food. Kids and gardening are made for each other. That is where it all begins. My kids know vegetables and fruit come from the dirt. They know eggs come from our chickens, and yes, they know meat comes from animals. They know the difference between a pet and an animal raised for food. This time of year, our garden is covered in frost so we will draw it out on paper and start planning our spring plantings. When they pick the seeds, help plant them, water them, watch them grow, harvest them, prep them, and cook them they have a new respect for food that you just can't get from buying it from the grocery store. It doesn't get any more local than your own backyard.

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