#Acorncrew cooks with David Mawhinney

#Acorncrew cooks with David Mawhinney

Throughout our #acorncrew series we will be conducting + posting interviews with our guests and hosting short Instagram live videos with recipes, activities and conversations. Our first episode features our very own David Mawhinney, who admits to being a bit of a control freak in the kitchen, while still always maintaining an open line of communication + collaboration.  

Read on for a conversation with David + a quick and easy pasta recipe to make at home — and tune in on Instagram to watch David and his daughter Frances cook up a storm.

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Tell us about the ethos behind Franklin+Emily, and why you’re calling on your community to collaborate on this series.  

DM: One of the underlying goals of the brand is to empower children. They aren’t often given the credit or opportunity they deserve, and can do a lot more than adults think. From the company point of view, we wanted to give children the agency to lift and move their own furniture around, and provide them with tools like the learning tower and the step stool, so they can really assist themselves (and help their parents out). The kitchen is an area where there are a lot of little tasks that seem very well suited to kids if given the proper tools. That’s really the reason that we built our learning tower. 

From there it was a pretty easy step over to the culinary community that I was immersed in for so long, to reach out for some help in teaching skills that both kids and parents alike can use, but also using that time with your child for some quality conversation while (somewhat!) absentmindedly shucking peas, picking herbs or rolling dough. These talks don’t have to be “big talks” but rather ongoing conversations. This allows the parent to go step-by-step, and allows the child to understand piece by piece rather than a huge dump of new information. We have to give kids more credit for the ability to understand complex problems and situations that are going on. 

Knowing that the culinary community is so generous, and we can always find ways to create meaningful conversation if we’re gathering around delicious food, in what ways did you use your experience in hospitality as a way to build your brand?  

DM: I think a lot of what I brought from the hospitality world to Franklin+Emily was really the sense that we want the whole experience to be a good one. I had a very holistic view when it came to restaurants where it’s really every detail that has to be thought about to make a complete experience, rather than just focus on the food. That quote about ‘they might not remember what [they ate], but they’ll remember how it made them feel” isn’t unique to hospitality, and one that we want to get across from our brand at every touch point. Despite many challenges, one of the silver linings that have come out of COVID-19 is eating together around the table again. I think with parents working from home, and being so much more available at dinner, that has caused a lot more conversation around our table at home. One of the things that has been lost in the last several years is what happens at the table beyond the food, it’s easy to just continue your workday at the table with your phone/tablet etc. at hand rather than take the time and talk.  

Franklin+Emily fans might not know this, but you’ve always had a food theme around birthday celebrations, tell us why it was important to you to create that tradition.  

DM: I love my kids birthdays so much! I really used it to have fun with food myself, and pick cuisines that weren’t necessarily typical at birthday parties, or if they were I took a bit of a spin on it. Again, I think this comes from teaching children early that they can indeed eat a variety of foods and that foods don’t have to be “dumbed down”. This has the benefit of making the food probably more nutritious for them as well. I remember seeing kids menus and if you look at them, the color palette is usually white – pasta, rice, breaded and fried protein. There is a place for that, but it shouldn’t be the focal point. So we did more interesting food for their birthdays: Israeli style lamb with falafel and pita, Mexican tamales and Cochinita pibilHawaiian musubi and huli huliAnd what’s even more fun is that now I have friends that are excited to help cook for my kids birthdays. 

Two quick stories I really have fond memories of: 

  • One dad who said ‘oh we’re just going to stay a little bit longer my mom (Israeli) is in town’ and then a friend later telling me she overheard him calling his mom to say ‘You gotta just come over here to try this - it’s legit’. 
  • The other was a friend that was FaceTiming another group of friends at a party and when they asked her why she wasn’t at that one she said ‘I’m at a much better party that happens to be for a three-year-old.’ 

What is the first dish you remember cooking? Who taught you to make it? 

DM: I would probably say it was bread with my mom (or helping make my own birthday cake). It’s a quick bread that I have since made at every restaurant that I’ve worked at, it has become a staple of my repertoire and has been tweaked often throughout the cooking career. It’s definitely something that I will pass down to my kids and teach them how to make. One kitchen memory that has always stuck with me was back in Belfast when I was 9 or so - where I popped in to see what my grandmother was making and she pulled out this bone marrow from the pan and gave me a little spoon and told me to eat all the stuff inside because it would make me grow. Years later I always kind of smiled whenever I had to cook with it because it would remind me of that. 

What does the term “breaking bread” mean to you, and how would you explain it to your child?  

DM: I think breaking bread to me is anytime you’re sitting around the table with friends or family and that regardless of what the food is, you cherish that time with them moreAgain my memories of this are usually on larger meals or dinner parties or holidays but I think there is the same underlying feeling around the table on a weekday, and maybe I need to be a bit more grateful that I can experience this. 

How do you incorporate new foods into your child’s diet? Any tips for parents of more particular palates? 

DM: I think being confident about it helps. Children are the same all over the world; therefore we know that they’re able to eat all sorts of different food, yet we often dumb it down to the lowest common denominator when we feed them. I should preface this by saying I am not a trained pediatric nutritionist and I am only thinking about it from a parent who was a chef. When they were really young I made purées and froze them: (cauliflower, peas, lentils, etc) and then slowly started adding mild spices into those that didn’t contain any salt. As they grow older we would just feed them smaller, cut up portions of our food (again without the salt added). 

Yes, there are picky” children, but I would actually remove the word children from that. There are picky eaters of all ages, and I think the trick there is to keep them trying new things so that that selectivity doesn’t carry over to teenage and adult years. 

Can you share a favorite cooking project that’s easy to make for a little one? 

DM: Absolutely. Kids really enjoy repetition and patterns and having their own tool to do something, whether it’s a bowl or a spatula or a whisk, giving them a tool to use that they’ve seen you use really makes them feel important and more eager to contribute. You really need to understand what your kids motor skill level is. The younger the kid the larger the finished product has to be: simple doughs, fruit and vegetables are good at this stage. Once they get a little older than you can work on the finer motor skills like separating and cleaning and picking. Then finally when (and under supervision) they’re able to hold a knife carefully, have them start with soft items like fruits and then work their way up to vegetables. 

Homemade Cavatelli (or any shape, really!)

Serves: 4-6 

500 grams Durum wheat or All Purpose flour
250 grams warm water

1. Mound your flour on the board and create a well in the center, push the
flour to all sides in a circular motion to create a wall that is 1 inch high.

2. Your well should be wide enough to hold all of the wet ingredients without spilling.

3. Add the water into the center of the well.

4. Begin incorporating some of the flour into the water by moving your fingers in a circular motion. This will slowly pull flour into your wet mixture. An even slow pace is key to avoiding lumps.

5. Eventually the mixture will become too thick to turn with your fingers. At this point begin incorporating the remaining flour with your pastry scraper. Lift the flour up over the dough and cut it into the dough using the pastry scraper.

6. At this point the dough will appear rough. Begin to knead the dough by pressing it in a forward motion using the heels of your hands.

7. As you do this occasionally reform the dough in to a ball and begin again.

8. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, covered.

9. Take a small amount of dough and roll it into a ‘snake’ about a pencil width in diameter. Cut into 1” pieces, and using your thumb, push down on the middle of the shape and roll towards yourself. You can also roll across the back of a fork for some extra texture.

10. When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully place the pasta into the water and boil for 2 minutes, or until the pasta floats and is cooked through, it should have a chewy, ‘al dente’ texture. Strain and toss with desired sauce.

A few of our favorite quick + easy sauce recipes...

Cacio e Pepe, Fresh Pesto, Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion