Aaron Chamberlin — restaurateur, chef, owner of Phoenix Public Market Café and Taco Chelo — is embarking on a new project called Chef Dad. With more than 30 years' experience in the restaurant industry, he says he hopes his culinary knowledge may help shift family behaviors everywhere to adopting healthier eating habits and converting those picky eaters into food connoisseurs.
But don’t put the ice cream down yet; Chamberlin isn't an advocate of giving up everything. We sat down with him to learn more about what started this project and what to expect.
Phoenix New Times: Where did the idea of Chef Dad come from?
Aaron Chamberlin: I was raised with my mother putting soda in my bottle. My mother was the daughter of a chef, and my mother showed us love through food. Whenever we did anything great, whenever we got a reward while at school, it was always based around food. By the time I graduated high school, I weighed 270 pounds. I had acne, I had all kinds of things going on, and to be honest with you, I personally was not thriving.
I believe the way I was raised, and what I was going through in my life, not even consciously realizing it, was the beginning of addiction problems. So you know how people say marijuana is the gateway drug? Well, my gateway drug was food.
Fast forward, all of a sudden, I meet a woman, who is extremely healthy and she's been in a very progressive household, where she grew up eating healthy foods, and she gets pregnant, my wife, and we're going to have our first child.
So I made it my path. I said, "I am not going to do this to my children." That is just one thing I know because it has actually haunted me in my life, my self-consciousness. I make a pact that I’m going to become Chef Dad.
What does Chef Dad mean to you?
Chef Dad is going to feed my kids the right foods right out of the gates. Chef Dad is going to show my children what’s important, what’s not, and I am going to send them out in the world, thriving, with the capability to understand how to cook for themselves, and to understand how to nourish themselves. Now, we’re not sticklers. We still eat ice cream, but I consider it a war where I'm fighting sugar. I'm fighting these things. But my whole goal is to inspire parents to connect with their children through food and create healthier households around the world. That’s my number-one goal.
Now, I’m not here to change the kids. It’s the parents that have to change. It’s the parents that have to make the decisions. Parents come to me for advice, and when I dig into it, it’s always the parents, it’s always their baggage — it’s their bullshit, that’s creating the kids to become picky eaters.
There’s no one like me out there, there’s nutritionists, who are boring as shit, there’s mommy bloggers, but no one who has my skill set, who has my years as working in the food industry, and who has what I can offer to parents, who can make shifts and changes in their household, to hit these goals.
What type of content are you planning to put out?
Why is it so important to connect with your kids through food? How am I connecting with my kids through food? I’m only sharing my story, the ups, the downs, what’s working and not working, what I see other people doing wrong. What should kids be eating at this stage in their life? You can get 10 parents and put them in a room, and ask them, "At 6 months old, what are you feeding your kid?" And 90 percent of them are going to tell you what mom taught them. It’s a trickle-down approach, and it’s the wrong stuff.
My content cornerstones are going to focus around ...
Picky eaters. Debunk what it means to have a picky eater. Parents don’t realize that they’re making their children picky eaters. My whole thing is going to be exposure over time.
Talking about food around the table. We make a beautiful plate of food and put it on the table, and it’s the kid’s decision as a human on what they want to eat. And that’s natural. And parents around picky eating put a lot of baggage on it. I’m mind-boggled by the comments, so when I put a plate of food in front of my kid and they don’t want to eat it, they just don’t eat. So next meal, they’re hungry.
You have to set up your kitchen. You got to get your place organized; if you’re going to take on your health, you have to be able to prepare for that. So in one week, if my kids eat three meals a day, three times seven equals 21 — I need to be ready for 21 meals. These are the basics.
Family dinners. It’s a lost art, to have a meal with your family around the table. The way I can show love to my family is by nurturing them through food and by having great conversations. One of my favorite things in the entire world is that every Sunday we cook a meal together. My kids get involved, my wife gets involved, we threaten to stab each other, we go gardening, we bring in food, we spend two to three hours talking and thinking and being with each other.
Easy recipes that people can execute. There’s this [dividing] line, where I meet people, where it’s like, "I can’t believe I have to do this, I don’t even want to think about it, cooking and this whole thing." And this other type of person, "I love food, I love to bake." It’s interesting, there’s almost no one in the middle. So how do we get people over to this side? How can I get them the tools to do this on a regular basis?
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When and where can we expect to see Chef Dad?
This project is six years in the works. My son’s 5. I have not been able to launch this because I built restaurants, I’ve had partnerships split, and I’ve had challenges in the restaurant industry. But now I’ve got that all that cleaned up and I’m technically launched. I’m putting things out on my social media daily, and I’m going to start building momentum there — putting out videos and content. I’m working on a massive book deal, working with a photographer and videographer, writing articles, and working with the Children’s Museum [of Phoenix] to start teaching classes. I have a website right now and a YouTube page, and it shows me and my boys cooking.
I want to do my part. I have a lot to give and I want to help change homes and houses. This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. I have a skill set where I think I can make a big impact, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. This is going to be my legacy, and there’s going to be multiple people who benefit from this — this impact on people. I think back on my life, and I didn’t realize how bad it was, and then I started getting a little healthier, and I’m still not perfect, but this is a journey I want to go on.
This isn’t all, "I’m perfect and I know everything," but if I can help people, this is going to be a fun thing, because I love food and I love people.
Editor's Note: This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.