Being a home cook who uses a recipe book as often as a whisk (can’t forks do the same thing?), I’ve always been fascinated by what inspires professionally trained chefs to create intricate and innovative dishes, especially ones that are simple enough to create quickly and satisfy many. I recently had a chance to catch up with Chef Donnell Long of the Olde Towne Inn in Maryland to talk about recipe development, family mealtime and how parents can get their kids more involved in the kitchen. Check out some of the highlights from our conversation.
What initially got you interested in the culinary arts?
The fact that I could use my hands to create something that didn’t exist and turn it into something people would crave. Now that’s power.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef in Washington DC?
Meeting new people and watching how something as simple as a meal can put a smile on their faces.
How do you get inspired when creating a new dish for your menu? Any tips to help busy families?
Most of my new dishes come from talking with my customers about what they like and don’t like, and then I start experimenting with various combinations based on these conversations.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for your family?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite meal, but family seems to enjoy my seafood meals most—shrimp scampi and shrimp alfredo.
With busy work schedules and after school activities, families seem to have very limited time to enjoy nutritious meals together. Do you have any words of advice for on-the-go parents?
Busy families can use the cooking experience as “family time.” On Saturday and Sundays, have your kids help with the preparation of the meal. This is a great time to talk to your kids and find out what is going on in their lives. During the week, something as simple as having your kids help you pack their school snacks into plastic bags is another opportunity for you to talk.
We have a lot of families interested in getting their kids involved in the cooking process. What do you think is the best way to introduce kids to the kitchen?
Start by having them serve as your assistant in the kitchen at the earliest possible age. Have them fetch you a spoon, a carton of milk, eggs, etc. Eventually, let them pour the milk, crack the eggs, operate the mixer, etc. If you involve them early, they will continue to have an interest in being with you in the kitchen.
Are there any particular seasonal ingredients you enjoy cooking with most?
Not so much seasonal ingredients, but I love to create different ways of integrating seasonal strawberries into various desserts and salads.
If you could cook for any person in this history of time who would it be and why?
Probably President Obama, simply because he is President of the United States and seems to enjoy food, but yet understands the value of physical activity and exercise.
Chef Donnell Long is a nationally recognized chef to the stars and proprietor of The Olde Towne Inn, located in Upper Marlboro, MD.