Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Interview with Rachel Klein, Chef at Aura and the Tamo Bar and Mom

If you haven't yet had the chance, meet Chef Rachel Klein. She is the creative force behind the kitchen at Aura Restaurant and the Tamo Bar at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. She is currently running Family Friendly Nights at Aura where parents can eat an excellent meal at Aura while children play in an adjacent play space. Chef Klein also invites new parents to Mommy and Me cooking classes. At these events, Chef Klein shares how to make healthy baby food and then parents get to eat lunch at Aura.

Yet she is also mother to two year old, Ethan. Finally, though she is a good soul whose son inspires her.
In fact, the word "inspire" came up frequently in my interview with Chef Klein. For example, she made it clear that the Family Friendly nights at Aura (on Fridays), the Mommy and Me classes and her cooking in general have evolved in large part as she has tried to figure out the best way to feed her newborn son.

Now, two years later, her home cooking has transformed again as Ethan becomes more comfortable using his own knife and fork and as his preferences have developed. Like many toddlers he doesn't like his foods to touch, yet unlike our picky (but very lovable) 3 year old, Ethan's favorite foods include balsamic vinegar, Indian spices and Rachel's homemade beef and barley soup. He clearly knows good food as his other top dishes include the cooking of Rachel's mother (particularly her sweet and sour meatballs and her braised chicken with raisins and marjoram). He also enjoys Chef Klein's turkey burgers with Indian spices and her homemade chicken soup. Chef Klein also noted that one of his favorite dishes is a tomato salad with soft mozzarella, sweet cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.

Although Ethan isn't her sous-chef (yet!), Rachel has given him his own set of wooden spoons and miniature pots and pans so that he can "cook" by her side at the end of the day. Rachel also shared that he then goes on to "feed" his dinosaurs and miniature animals.
Rachel expressed such joy and pride about the gardening that she and Ethan have done together. As Ethan uses his own shovel, they have planted a range of vegetables and herbs that are now growing in their backyard. While so many of us try to encourage our children to taste food, I was intrigued when Chef Klein noted that she tries to develop Ethan's sense of smell. So, together they pick the fresh lavender or mint and then rub the leaves to smell, and then, taste the herbs. Chef Klein is also growing herbs on the roofgarden at the Seaport. In fact, on August 14th, the Family Friendly meal will include a trip to the garden and the chance for children to plant their own herbs.

Like so many working parents, although Chef Klein would love to consistently feed Ethan meals of organic dishes that she prepares regularly, it is just not realistic at the end of a 12 hour work day. On weekends and vacations, she tries to cook dishes, such as braised chicken and soups that can last for a few days. Yet, like many of us, Chef Klein has worked to make some compromises. For example, she praised the boiled and packaged beets at Trader Joes, as well as their cooked brown rice. She noted that when she reads the packages, she has realized that many Trader Joe's products are minimally processed, but yet she can get home at 6:00 and still sit down with Ethan and her husband, Lee for a good meal.

And, in fact, sitting down together is one of the most important parts of the day for her. Chef Klein noted that even before she had her son, sitting down for dinner with Lee was a core part of her life. As she said, "The family table is where you talk about things-good or bad, screaming or laughing. That is where a family happens. That is really important to me. "

Cooking for her family is also important as both Chef Klein and her son Ethan are allergic to peanuts. So, Chef Klein can't take her son out to most Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurants as peanuts are such an integral part of these cuisines. I mentioned to Chef Klein that Ming Tsai's Lounge at Blue Ginger has a kitchen that is 100% peanut free and she praised Chef Tsai for his genuine commitment and support for people with food allergies. Yet Chef Klein herself, upon winning the recent Chef in Shorts competition, just donated her $1,000 prize money to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). She noted that in a kitchen like Aura's where food is prepared for everything from banquets to 3 meals a day it is difficult to be 100% peanut free. But she also mentioned that if a customer is allergic, she will personally do all she can to create a safe (r) dish, such as cleaning all the utensils and preparing the dish herself. At home, Chef Klein carefully reads labels before bringing products into her home, too.

Chef Klein has clearly enjoyed her more recent ventures into the world of cooking for children. She has teamed up with Isis Maternity to do baby food cooking classes, and is excited that Aura now has an interactive kitchen so that she may be able to expand on her Mommy and Me classes. (In these classes, parents get to watch her prepare organic baby food, and then enjoy a meal with their infants. With parking included, it only costs $25.) She is also humble enough to recognize that when she teaches these classes she is simply sharing her experiences cooking for her son and her opportunities to create more child-friendly fare. Yet she noted that some parents know far more than her about feeding children and acknowledged that she can't always answer all the questions that parents have for her.

Family Friendly nights happen each Friday from 5:30 to 8:00 pm. Two upcoming special events include meeting animals from Zoo New England on Friday, July 31st and a visit to Chef Klein's rooftop garden on Friday, August 14th. Mommy and Me classes take place on the third Wednesday of each month at 11:00 a.m.

For more information, you can check out the main Aura website, the schedule of Mommy and Me classes and the special events at Aura, including the Family Friendly nights.

Aura at the Seaport Hotel, 1 Seaport Lane, 617-385-4300
Tamo Bar at the Seaport Hotel, 1 Seaport Lane, 617-385-4315

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