Chef Herschell Taghap makes room for his most important new diner
(High chair) table for one, please
COURTESY OF HERSCHELL TAGHAP
As a chef, Herschell Taghap has some advantages when it comes to feeding his family. But not even restaurant experience prepares a cook for learning someone’s tastes as intimately as a parent knows a child.
Mealtimes are different now — and that’s not a complaint. Fatherhood has opened the door to a whole new side of dining for the 37-year-old: “Every day is fulfilling. I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card, but watching him grow has been the coolest thing for me.” he says.
Kitchen prep time at home is now scheduled during his son’s two-hour morning nap. Portion sizes are a lot smaller for the new diner, now 11 months old, than for other family members or restaurant clients. Taghap’s home is “like a small-scale catering kitchen,” where he might prepare a month’s supply of sweet potatoes — about a half-pound — into individual freeze-ahead servings. Taghap, a chef-instructor at the Hot Stove Society and former digital manager for Tom Douglas Restaurants, hasn’t changed what he cooks that much, generally starting up a separate frying pan for the baby’s meal. He uses the same basic ingredients as the adults, now that his son has been exposed to all the major allergens, but is holding off on big-gun additions like added salt and sugar until he turns 1.
“I’m purposefully not following my French training, my culinary school training,” says Taghap, whose background includes DJing and computer programming as well as culinary school. For years, though, cooking has been the major source of creativity and catharsis for this dynamic, deep-thinking cook, at home as well as in his restaurant work. You could say he prepared for the job of family cook early, or that he’s been doing it all his adult life.
When his wife, Liana, was pregnant at the height of summer, Taghap sampled a few precious Frog Hollow peaches, the famously sweet, fragrant stone fruits from Northern California, slicing and freezing the best one so that his son could taste it months later.
In the beginning, with a nursing newborn, “It was frustrating, not being able to cook things for him,” Taghap says.
Once solid food was on the table, Taghap has cooked every meal. It’s a gift that goes both directions.
“Cooking, to me, was the first thing I could do for them that I own. And my wife let me own it,” he says.
Congee porridge — rice and water — was his son’s first meal.
“It was important that his food memory was something that was so important in my life. My mom served rice for every meal … and I serve rice for almost every meal,” he says. At nine months, he added dried scallops to the porridge.
Taghap shops more efficiently now than before, trying to avoid last-minute trips to the grocery store. He buys meat in bulk on sale, portioning it out for stir-fries or other recipes, and freezing it. He makes his own sausage. He still takes time to plate food attractively, even though his primary customer, now toddling around the room, prefers speed over presentation.
“He doesn’t care if the tomato was concasseed (peeled, seeded and precisely chopped.) He doesn’t care about perfect bias (a diagonal cut.) He just wants to eat it,” says Taghap. So far, everything except Brussels sprouts has been a hit. (Boiling and puréeing them may have been a mistake, Taghap says — next time, he plans to brown them.)
“He has been watching me eat since he was born, and he always looked at us with wonder when we were eating, Taghap says. “So when we gave him food there was no learning curve. He put it in his mouth and he just did whatever we were doing, and it was awesome.”