Baby rules

A Ger­man in China dis­cover the syn­ergy be­tween keep­ing chil­dren fed and healthy.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By DONGFANGYU dongfangyu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Din­ing out with ba­bies and young chil­dren can be a lit­tle more than an adventure if you are not fully pre­pared for it.

Th­ese days quite a fewrestau­rants have menus for chil­dren that go a long way to fill­ing tiny tum­mies, but it takes more than food to ap­pease the young. Of­ten par­ents can be pre­oc­cu­pied en­sur­ing they do not run about the place caus­ing a din and in the process up­set­ting all and sundry.

Fancy theme restau­rants for chil­dren cater to those at the hy­per­ac­tive end of the scale by pro­vid­ing a place to play, but the food is of­ten medi­ocre.

So the other day when I ac­ci­den­tally wan­dered into a kids-friendly bistro with a play area that was part of a shop where I was shop­ping for baby prod­ucts, my in­stinct was to head for the exit.

How­ever, my in­quis­i­tive­ness got the bet­ter of me, andI de­cided to­have lunch there and at the same time find out a lit­tle about the place. One of the first things that caughtmy eye, on the menu, was that the pro­pri­etor is Ger­man. I also found the place to be amenable to the wishes of both chil­dren and par­ents. Chil­dren can play, par­ents can shop and, above all, fam­i­lies can en­joy cui­sine that can be classed as gourmet.

The taste buds of my in­quis­i­tive­ness were only slightly sat­is­fied, so the next day I re­turned and ap­proached the owner of Bistro Blu, Nils van Doorn, who told me of his views on chil­dren’s din­ing and the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing an in­ter­na­tional par­ent in China.

The restau­rant, which spe­cial­izes in Ger­man and Ital­ian cui­sine, of­fers dif­fer­ent dishes cater­ing for ba­bies, tod­dlers and older chil­dren, with a fo­cus on us­ing fresh in­gre­di­ents and in­cor­po­rat­ing nu­tri­tious el­e­ments.

“Kids love ice creams and french fries,” Van Doorn says. “They have a ten­dency to go for un­healthy food. This is a uni­ver­sal pat­tern re­gard­less of na­tion­al­ity, and what we are try­ing to do is to raise the level of the food they are eat­ing. For ex­am­ple, to use frozen yo­gurt to re­place ice cream be­cause it has the same great taste but with a lot fewer calo­ries and sugar.”

Pas­tas are all fresh, house-made, us­ing Ital­ian equip­ment, Van Doorn says. “Chicken nuggets are home­made out of fresh chicken in­stead of the usual KFC ones.”

Not con­tent to keep young palates sat­is­fied, Bistro Blu also of­fers cook­ing classes for chil­dren ev­ery week­end at its three out­lets, in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, and Chengdu, the aim be­ing to show them that you can have a lot more fun cook­ing at home than in spend­ing time in fast-food restau­rants.

“Th­ese are lit­tle steps. If you try to change kids all at once you will fail. It just builds up re­sis­tance. If you try to go step by step, though slower, you will make an im­pact.”

We tried some baby pasta, tiny pieces in the shape of let­ters of the al­pha­bet, with tomatos auce, suit­able for ba­bies about 7 or 8 months old. It should not be as­sumed that all baby food are bland; in fact this one was slightly aro­matic, per­haps due to the fact that the pasta is fresh, made with bar­ley flour, oil, eggs and wa­ter.

The dish is salt free be­cause the kid­neys of a baby this age can­not take salt.

Once it is safe to in­tro­duce salt to a baby’s diet, there is an­other pasta dish of low salt and oil with a cute lay­out of fruit and veg­eta­bles and smi­ley potato pies. This fusilli pasta is very soft, de­lib­er­ately cooked to ex­cess so that it is not chewy, mak­ing it palat­able to tod­dlers.

Older chil­dren have a choice of var­i­ous sets of beef, pizza and sausages.

While chil­dren eat or have fun at the restau­rant play area of swings, slides, and toys, par­ents can treat them­selves with de­light­ful treats as well, such as the au­then­tic Ger­man de­light Sch­wein­shaxe (a siz­able roasted pork knuckle).

The cracked skin is a de­lec­ta­ble crust, and the meat in­side but­ter soft, al­most fall­ing apart at the mere touch of a fork and knife. This dish takes time: once the mar­i­nated pork knuckle is put into the oven it is sprin­kled with beer ev­ery 15 min­utes over two hours, Van Doorn said. Only by stick­ing rigidly to that method, he said, can the skin be crisp and chewy and not stick to one’s teeth. The fat un­der the skin is a rev­e­la­tion, too, de­li­cious and grease free, and with the tex­ture of bone mar­row.

Also try bal­anc­ing your palate with what it is paired with the pork knuckle—the sour sauer­kraut( fer­mented cab­bage), the Ger­man ver­sion of Chi­nese pick­led cab­bage suan cai.

We also tried risotto, want­ing to test how Bistro Blu per­forms with this dish that is sim­ple but no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to get right. The porcini mush­rooms risotto and seafood risotto me tour high ex­pec­ta­tions, exquisitely mushy and slightly chewy.

The idea for such a restau­rant and a shop sell­ing baby prod­ucts was born with the joys and frus­tra­tions of be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tional par­ent in China, Van Doorn said.

“When my son was born in 2008 I found it was hard to find high-qual­ity baby prod­ucts in shops in Shang­hai. They did not meet my re­quire­ments in terms of qual­ity, safety and de­sign. So I ended up bring­ing back most of the baby prod­ucts from food to strollers, to car seat from Europe la­bo­ri­ously when­ever I went back to Ger­many, and when­ever my wife and I had a friend com­ing back from Europe.”

He jokes: “Even­tu­ally we were on the verge of los­ing all our fre­quent­flyer friends. Hav­ing to bring kilo­grams of baby food back from ev­ery trip to Europe can get in the way of friend­ships.”

So he and his wife, Chen Lian, de­cided they needed to do some­thing to find a solution, not only for them but for oth­ers in their sit­u­a­tion as well, he said. They then set up Baby In­ter­na­tional, im­port­ing qual­ity baby prod­ucts.

“We first cre­ated an on­line shop­ping plat­form, baby-in­ter­na­tional. I did all the de­liv­er­ies, car­ry­ing or­ders all over Shang­hai, and met cus­tomers who in turn in­tro­duced us to their friends.”

The mat­ter of din­ing for chil­dren oc­curred to him, he said, af­ter he once al­most lost his son when the fam­ily was out din­ing. Why not set up a restau­rant be­sides his store, where chil­dren have a play area and par­ents can en­joy de­cent food?

Par­ents do not need to while away the time wait­ing out­side the play cen­ter, and they do not have to nip into a fast food es­tab­lish­ment, thus com­pro­mis­ing their chil­dren’s nu­tri­tion, he said.

Bistro Blu also of­fers cus­tom­ized plan­ning for birth­day par­ties, moth­ers’ meet­ings and doc­tors’ sem­i­nars.

“Our goal is to bring peo­ple to­gether,” Van Doorn says.

Van Doorn said he hopes to ex­pand even­tu­ally, with a busi­ness model of a Bistro Blu at­tached to a Baby In­ter­na­tional store. There are plans for a new out­let in Hangzhou some time this year.

Kids love ice creams and french fries. They have a ten­dency to go for un­healthy food. ... What we are try­ing to do is to raise the level of the food they are eat­ing.” Nils van Doorn, owner of Bistro Blu

PHOTOS BY DONG FANGYU / CHINA DAILY

Bistro Blu is a place that chil­dren can play, par­ents can shop and, above all, fam­i­lies can en­joy cui­sine that can be classed as gourmet.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Nils van Doorn with his wife and son.

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