Exclusive Interview: Misha Collins & the Origination of ‘The Adventurous Eaters Club’
Misha Collins, best known for his role on Supernatural as the angel Castiel, has entered into new territory — author. With the help of his wife Vicki, a journalist, author, and historian, they’ve created a valuable tool for parents and grown-ups alike who may need some guidance in “mastering the art of family mealtime.”
Nerds and Beyond had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Misha about his new cookbook, The Adventurous Eaters Club, but as true native New Englanders do, we first had to discuss the best part about living up in this area — autumn. New England has been particularly lucky this year, being blessed with what Misha referred to as a “protractive fall” and he couldn’t have been more correct. Fall in New England is a world of its own as it bursts into color and if you ever get the chance to experience it, don’t miss it.
Nerds and Beyond: So I read your book, and I tested it with my 3-year-old yesterday and I’d like to tell you it’s the first time she’s eaten dinner in weeks, so thanks for that!
Misha: No … is that really true?
Nerds and Beyond: It’s actually true! [laughs]
Misha: What did you cook?
Nerds and Beyond: We made the Mix and Match Chicken.
Misha: Oh! And she was a part of the process of cooking?
Nerds and Beyond: She was, she breaded it for us.
Misha: And then, she developed curiosity in the process and tried it?
Nerds and Beyond: She did! We can’t even get her to sit at the table, never mind eat food, but she ate a whole half piece of chicken, which is remarkable.
Misha: Which one did she like best?
Nerds and Beyond: Cinnamon.
Misha: Yeah, same for our kids. And, much to my shock, same for me! I was like, this cinnamon thing is delicious!
Nerds and Beyond: Thats what I said! I was making it and I was like “I don’t trust this” but I’m gonna go with it and it was my favorite too! [laughs]
Misha: That’s amazing, it was totally my experience [laughs]. I was like “This is a bad idea, why are we doing this?” And West was like “It’ll be good” and I was like “No it won’t, but okay” and then I was shocked to find out I don’t know why we don’t put cinnamon on chicken all the time, it’s delicious!
Well, I have to say I’m gratified to hear that, not that many people have gotten a cookbook who have kids who have gotten a chance to try something and it’s nice to hear a little bit of positive feedback, so glad you did. That was the thing for us. We had a picky eater son, and I chronicled it in the videos in the cooking Fast and Fresh series that I did some time ago with our kids, but it was a process of seeing that when he’d thrown some groceries into the grocery basket when we were at the grocery store that went unnoticed as we went through checkout, and then we got home and I was like, “What, Jerusalem artichokes? I don’t even know what these are or how to cook them.” And West was like “I’ll show you!” And he had thrown Jerusalem artichokes into the basket, just randomly grabbing some item at the grocery store, and then he proceeded to cook me — I mean, I assisted him in the process — but we made Jerusalem artichokes. And he, who had been a picky eater, the only thing we could consistently get him to eat at that point was pasta and crackers, devoured the Jerusalem artichokes. And it was so clear, so abundantly clear so quickly that he was developing both curiosity and pride in the food because he was a part of the cooking process and that was the germ of this cookbook for us. It was discovering “Oh wow, there’s something that very concretely, very clearly works here” and then that spurred us to then dig into a bunch of research, and talk to experts, and sort of figure out really how to break down this picky eating phenomenon, and frankly, a lot of the insidious cultural forces that we are exposing our kids to that reinforced picky eating and obstinate non-eating and all of the unpleasant things that come along with childhood and mealtime in America. So anyway, long story short, we kind of stumbled into writing this cookbook, but now feel like the stuff that we learned along the way from that first epiphany have been very transformative for our family.
Nerds and Beyond: Well, I think it’s going to help other people too if my experience is anything to say for it. So I have a few other questions. What’s your best advice for harnessing a love of cooking for someone who maybe hasn’t found any joy in it yet?
Misha: We had an interesting case study in our family because Vicki was that parent. She was the non-cook, she grew up in a family that didn’t cook at all. But not only that, I think the kitchen was kind of like a scary place for her because her mother didn’t cook, and her dad was resentful of that, there was all of this emotional baggage that went into cooking for her as a grown-up. And because I liked cooking and because I enjoyed the process, I was always the one cooking. But then I started working a lot, and we had kids, and she found herself painted into this corner where she had to make food for the kids and when she allowed herself to start experimenting as well, sort of like we did with the kids — and really it happened after we had children — and was part of this whole process, not only were we discovering how to introduce our kids to new food and bring them into them into the cooking process, but the process was also largely about doing that with and for Vicki. She was discovering how to embrace the process of cooking and how to enjoy it as the form of creative expression, and frankly love, and that’s been a real lovely thing to watch, a really lovely transformation to watch. So anyway, long story short, I think that this cookbook is both about ingratiating kids to new foods and about having the whole family coalesce around cooking, even parents who don’t consider themselves cooks.
Nerds and Beyond: Which recipe in the book brings back the fondest memory — whether when you were making it, or thinking it up?
Misha: [Laughs] There are a lot things that pop into mind. But, even as somebody who’s writing a book called The Adventurous Eaters Club, as someone who has been cultivating a little bit of an identity around exploration in food, the things that my kids come up with “I’m like ugh, that sounds terrible” and that knee-jerk response just still keeps coming up for me. One of those was, the kids were like, “Hey, I want to make dessert.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know if you need any extra sweet stuff,” and they said, “Well, how about if we make salad popsicles?” And my immediate response was “Ugh, what are you talking about?” I didn’t say that out loud but [laughs] my thought was that just sounds gross. And then they made these popsicles which are in the book and they came out stunningly beautiful and remarkably all of the kids — they had a bevy of friends over that afternoon — and so there were all of these kids, some of them who are known picky eaters, and they were all eating these beautiful salad popsicles as if they were the best dessert on Earth. And it was another reminder that letting go of the reins and letting the kids explore often leads to really unexpected surprises.
Nerds and Beyond: If you had to choose one in the book to change a vegetable haters mind, which one would be?
Misha: I can’t remember the name of the recipe! I should know by heart all of the names of the recipes — the one about broccoli. We made this one for, again, for the neighborhood kids who all were over at the house, we just made this big mound of broccoli. And it’s very simple, it’s very lightly seasoned but it’s basically plain broccoli, but it has a little bit of seasoning in it. And it was amazing just watching these kids devour this mountain of broccoli, and there were a couple of kids in the group who had never eaten broccoli before and had been resistant to it. One of the things that we learned in that talking to experts and researching for the book was that one of the best ways to ingratiate kids to new foods is to keep them simple. So rather than like making a complicated stir fry of vegetables and sneaking a new vegetable into that mix, you actually — and possibly counterintuitively — present that one vegetable as a standalone so it’s not confusing and it’s not mysterious. They can see exactly what it is and they can experience it more as just that simple whole food. So, we have a chapter called “One Vegetable at a Time” and that whole chapter is devoted to that idea of introducing things in various simple forms. Now, that’s not exclusively just seeing the vegetable, there’s the tryst to the recipes but they’re pretty simple and they’re really geared at letting children explore new foods through simplicity, which is important for their young palates.
Nerds and Beyond: We actually went out and bought the small dishes that you guys recommend to separate the new foods.
Misha: Yeah, there’s so many strange little things that we don’t realize are actually confusing and make kids resist food, and one of them is that we mix things together too much. Another thing is that we present them with mountains of food, which seems overwhelming. So when you’re introducing kids to new foods one of the tried and true methods for doing so is to present that new food alongside something that they’re familiar with so that the meal in and of itself isn’t something that feels scary or daunting, and present that new food in very small quantities so that it’s almost just a taste rather than the cornerstone of the meal. So, kids are much more likely to experiment with a new food if it’s presented to them in that manner and one of the methods that we use for that just using these little dishes that also makes it a very pretty presentation, because we often also forget in our haste that presentation is a part of it. If something looks pretty, and looks appealing, kids are also more likely to eat it. It’s something that the chefs in nice restaurants know but we as time-pressed parents often forget. If we make things pretty, kids are more likely to eat them and a lot of times that doesn’t take a lot of extra work. It can be done very quickly.
Nerds and Beyond: Are there any foods that you would ever be unwilling to try?
Misha: There are very few foods that I’m unwilling to try. I have to say, I have a pretty adventurous palate myself. There was a long stretch when there was something acrid to me in the floor in the flavor of papadum, which is like that crispy Indian cracker that you get at Indian restaurants. That I was like, “I don’t like that food” and then like a year ago I tried it and I was like “I don’t know why I didn’t like this.” I don’t have a lot of lingering foods, but I do remember the process of accepting foods over time as a child. I remember when I was very young I didn’t like broccoli, or I thought I didn’t like broccoli, and then when I was four I remember saying, “You know what, I think I’m okay with broccoli now.” Then I went through that same process with mushrooms and came around to mushrooms when I was seven. And liver … if I’m being honest, I still don’t really like liver. I wouldn’t refuse it, but I’ve never really developed a taste for liver. But that’s also very common for people. There’s a process for learning to accept new foods and it takes time, but now I’ve also probably burned most of my tastebuds out of my mouth by eating too much hot sauce in college. So, maybe I’m more accepting of foods because I simply can’t taste them anymore.
The Adventurous Eaters Club is out on Tuesday, November 5. If you needed another reason to add this book to your collection, 100% of author profits from the sake to the book are going to charities committed to ending childhood hunger, including Edible Schoolyard Project.
You can read our review of the book, 3-year-old sous chef included, here!