KIDS WHO COOK

PHO­TOG­RA­PHER. TV STAR. MODEL. CURRY MAS­TER? THERE’S MORE TO NIGEL BARKER THAN MEETS THE EYE.

Rachael Ray Every Day - - Contents - BY NINA ELDER

Nigel Barker (yes, that Nigel Barker) and his fam serve up an au­then­tic Sri Lankan feast.

If you saw Nigel Barker on a plane, you’d no­tice that he is very tall and very hand­some—and trav­els with his own con­tainer of cayenne pep­per to perk up his in-flight meal. “I bring a lot of my own food when I travel,” he says in his Bri­tish ac­cent. (Did we men­tion the Bri­tish ac­cent?) “Spice is ‘the spice of life,’ as they say.”

The fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher, best known as a judge on Amer­ica’s Next Top Model, is part Sri Lankan, so he’s no stranger to spice. One of the first foods he ate was parippu, a tra­di­tional Sri Lankan curry made with yel­low lentils, co­conut milk, and turmeric. “They give it to ba­bies to get them used to Sri Lankan food,” Nigel says. “As you get older, they slowly wean you off of the mild stuff and work in the chiles.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY PAOLA MUR­RAY

One of six chil­dren, Nigel spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his mother and grand­mother. “I learned a lot: recipes, fam­ily sto­ries, the joy of work­ing to­gether, lo­cal gos­sip,” he says. Th­ese days, when he’s not on set, you’ll likely find him cook­ing at his home in up­state New York. “I usu­ally make din­ner,” he says. “It’s my way of un­wind­ing, even if I’ve been shoot­ing all day.” And he of­ten has help: His wife, Crissy, and their kids, 12-year-old Jack and nine-year-old Jas­mine, all pitch in.

Tonight the Barker bunch is mak­ing a Sri Lankan feast: parippu, shrimp skew­ers, rice with nuts and raisins, and cab­bage with mus­tard seeds. While the fam­ily cooks—crissy skew­ers the shrimp, Jack grinds spices in a mor­tar and pes­tle, and Jas­mine chops to­ma­toes—nigel man­ages to get in a les­son or two. “What do you do if you get chile in your eye, Jas?” he asks. “Pour milk in it!” she re­sponds. “That’s a Sri Lankan trick,” Nigel ex­plains. “The milk will neu­tral­ize the cap­saicin and stop the sting­ing.” When Jack gets a lit­tle overzeal­ous bash­ing the lemon­grass with a meat mal­let, Nigel re­minds him that a lighter touch will re­lease the fla­vor with­out leav­ing stringy strands in the food.

In ad­di­tion to the culi­nary lessons, Nigel hopes that cook­ing will also make his kids more open-minded. “I want to in­still in them a love of food,” he says. “And I hope it helps them to be more ad­ven­tur­ous, too.”

FROM A KID’S PER­SPEC­TIVE, COOK­ING IS DAN­GER­OUS AND EX­CIT­ING,” SAYS NIGEL. “KIDS AREN’T NOR­MALLY AL­LOWED TO PLAY WITH FIRE OR KNIVES, BUT THEY CAN IN THE KITCHEN.”

MY MOM AND GRAND­MOTHER WEREN’T BIG ON MEA­SUR­ING IN­GRE­DI­ENTS,” SAYS NIGEL. “IT WAS AL­WAYS ‘A PINCH OF THIS’ AND ‘A TWIST OF THAT,’ SO I’M NOT RE­ALLY A RECIPE PER­SON.”

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