In the ’80s and ’90s, Japanese, Indian, and casual Italian and French spots became suburban staples around Philly. With both parents working in many families and the economy in a boom, grabbing a sushi or pasta dinner became a regular weeknight activity. Families also began taking their kids downtown more often, as the city exploded with great restaurants.
Of course, 30 years ago, parents were still much more likely to go out to dinner without their kids, considering dining-out an adult activity. Like much of child-rearing, what kids eat and how they order it has undergone a huge shift toward permissiveness and self-expression over the past two decades. “I think parents are treating their kids like friends these days,” restaurateur Taichman says of the interactions she witnesses at her bistros. “These are cool, urban folks, so some of the kids are way out there.”
So is foodiness the new soccer? Are we destined to be Foodie Moms? Ironically, much like soufflés and mousses, soccer barely existed in the U.S. until the mid-20th century, but by 1985 had surpassed football as the cool high-school sport. As David Kamp points out in The United States of Arugula, so too was gourmet food little-known on our shores before the “Big Three” — Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne — popularized it and brought haute cuisine into America’s kitchens. Where fine dining had once been restricted to the very rich, most middle-class Americans were at least aware of things like paella and handmade pasta by the ’70s, and in Philly, had been to Frog and La Terrasse and Friday Saturday Sunday.
Since the 1930s, some suburbanites have made Saturday forays to the Lancaster County Farmers’ Market in Wayne, eating locally grown, sustainable food long before it was chic. Finally, in the ’90s, Whole Foods opened in Devon, and later in Wynnewood, supplying us with reams of information about where our food came from. In 2001, South Street’s Django astonished us with its simple but brilliant dishes, and a spate of BYOBs in Philly and the ’burbs made it almost impossible not to become, at least in some small measure, a foodie.
IN RARE CASES, an early passion for food is not only cool; it provides a career path. Nick Normile got a book offer, and he and his father were tendered a trip to California this summer by Jamba Juice for a special new-product tasting for food bloggers. More often, though, kids who are food-aware are simply heading for healthy, well-rounded futures as eaters, not chefs.
“I love salmon, and sea bass. And tilapia. And I like prunes, and figs!” Out in Bryn Mawr, Alexa, a small and delightful girl with big green eyes and long brown hair, is pulling things out of her refrigerator and cabinets, showing me her favorite foods. Alexa, who is about to become a third-grader at Episcopal Academy, is in her mom Ana Maria Lenfest’s beautiful kitchen, where the two love to cook organic pancakes and pizzas together.