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What the Kids of SF's Chefs Bring in Their Lunchboxes

Sara Deseran | August 14, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

Just because they gain raving reviews from diners, doesn't mean that San Francisco's chefs can appease the juice box crowd at home. We talked to four cooks and restaurant owners with children between the ages of three and seven about the food they prep for their little ones. A lunchbox survey reveals a smorgasbord of offerings from hot dog octopuses to salami sushi to chefs-are-just-like-us packets of Fruit Shredz.

1. Mutsumi Takehara
Owner, Sandbox Bakery
Lunch for Maddox, age 3
Little Angels Japanese Preschool (S.F.)

Every morning after the bakery opens, Mutsumi Takehara packs three different bento boxes for her boys (ages 3, 5, and 7). “Even though I own a bakery, my kids aren’t interested in baked items at all. All they want is noodles or rice. So I end up being an obedient Japanese mom.”
The Main: An all-beef Niman frank is cut into an octopus shape to be dipped into ketchup. “If I forget the black sesame eyeball on the hot dog octopus, Maddox will be pissed.”
The Side: Cheddar cheese is cut into bear shapes (that’s not a cat—get it straight). Edamame for health.
The Carb: Om rice is made of an omelet wrapped around rice. “It’s very, very popular Japanese kids’ lunch stuff ,” Takehara says. “I make a crepe-like egg mixed with a little sugar and salt and wrap it around the rice mixed with ketchup. Today the rice also has kale and bacon in it.”
The Box: The bento box is wrapped in a scarf decorated with Goseiger. “They’re like Japanese Power Rangers.”

2. Jason Fox
Chef, Commonwealth
Lunch for Emma, age 3
Lycée Français (Marin)

While Jason Fox is preparing sweetbreads poached in beeswax for the evening at Commonwealth, his girls, Emma, 3, and Lily, 6, are digging into simpler delicacies. No matter how noble, Fox’s efforts aren’t always applauded. “They say Daddy doesn’t make it like Mommy,” he says dejectedly, “even if it’s just peanut butter and jelly.”

The Main: Emma is the more adventurous eater of the two daughters.“She loves shrimp, cucumbers, olives, and broccoli,” says Fox. The shrimp are brought home from the restaurant: wild-caught and from the Gulf.
The Sides: The girls love celery and cucumbers, too. “Emma eats, like, four cucumbers a day—the Persian ones. She calls them cucumber pops. She equates them with a Fudgsicle.”
Fox knows exactly where the fruit comes from—and it’s not the grocery store. Raspberries are from Yerena Farms; strawberries are from Dirty Girl Produce.
The Sweets: Dessert is a pedestrian Z Bar. “I gave the girls foie gras mousse once, and they liked it—it’s creamy and rich. But I don’t want them to have expensive tastes right now.”
The Box: The very sparkly lunch box.

3. Shelley Lindgren
Wine director and co-owner, A16 and SPQR
Lunch for Asher, age 5, and Phineas, age 7
Saints Peter and Paul (S.F.
The children of Shelley and husband Greg (co-owner of bars Rye and 15 Romolo) have no shortage of food industry perks—for starters, all-you-can-eat A16 pizza. “They eat it like a Neapolitan, folding it in half.” And on Fridays—pizza day at school—they even forgo their usual packed lunch. For these boys, pizza is a lifestyle.
The Main: Asher’s kindergarten teacher is part of the Soracco family, which has owned Liguria Bakery in North Beach since 1911. “I buy the pizza- flavored focaccia there and give it to the kids for lunch.”
The Sides: Like every other kid in the Bay Area, Asher loves toasted nori. The ubiquitous carrot sticks are on offer, too. “I think people think that my kids’ lunch is going to be more elaborate than it is, but it’s pretty normal.”
The Sweets: “Asher is a chocoholic. Phineas is into fruit. The yogurt pretzel is like their cookie.”
The Box: The ninja turtles lunch box.

4. James Syhabout
Chef-owner, Commis, Box & Bells, Hawker Fare
Lunch for Emma, age 3
Rockridge Montessori Preschool (Oakland)

With a 10-month old and a wife who works as a doctor, Syhabout is on lunch-packing duty for his daughter Emma. But for him, it’s hardly drudgery. “It’s fun. It’s like cooking for customers. I get to test what she likes and what she doesn’t.” Her preferences? “She does not like Froot Loops. She does like sea cucumber.” The paternal pride is evident.
The Main: The idea for salami sushi came out of necessity. “We always have a rice cooker on, and I had some Frá Mani salami. It’s kind of like the Spam musubi you find in Hawaii.”
The Sides: “This is probably more for me than her. I’m really into Japanese snacks. I’ll eat anything from bonito-flavored chips to rice crackers. But these are just saltine crackers.”
The Sweets: “Emma prefers crunchy fruit like Asian pears, so these nectarines from Hamada Farms are under-ripe. She hates anything mushy.”
The Box: The poodle lunchbox.

Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco.

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