By Robert St. John
One of the most enjoyable aspects of parenting is watching one’s child grow into an independent human being. I have loved following the process with my 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
Each came into this world a blank slate. Their mother and I steered them along and emphasized what we felt was important, but we also did our best to let their individual tastes develop at an early age.
Each had a sense of style from the beginning. My wife and I would catch each other saying, “That (article of clothing) looks like her,” or “That doesn’t look like him.”
Musical taste is a big one for me. My kids heard a wide array of musical genres in their early years, and today each of them has their own individual taste in music. It’s not all mine and it’s not all of their mother’s, but each took a little from here and there, obviously combined it with what their peers are listening to, added music from their environment, and all of that comes together to form the music they are interested in today. I love that. Tomorrow is another story, but today’s favorites will help mold what they listen to in the future, too.
Since birth, my kids have been bombarded with all sorts of food influences. Just as with music and fashion, each has developed their own taste and preference.
Whereas both have fairly sophisticated palates for kids their age – having eaten all manner of food in all manner of locations – at home they go for what they know. My daughter loves dining out, and prefers Japanese cuisine. My son would rather dine at home. He loves steak, turkey sandwiches, and hot wings. As a matter of fact, hot wings are what fostered this whole nature vs. nurture reflection.
My son’s abnormal love for hot wings is pure nature.
His recent hot wing obsession popped up out of nowhere. His mother and I never ate them. In the 1980s I was the first to serve hot wings in a restaurant in my hometown, but they’ve been off the menu since well before either child was born.
Recently, when he started asking for wings, I began to take notice of all of the wing-themed concepts out there. There are many.
I have a friend who spent a career in the chicken business. He started in the early 1960s when wings were the least desirable part of the chicken – just above the beaks and feet. “We couldn’t give them away in the ’70s,” he told me a few months ago. “Now people are raising chickens for the wings and breasts.”
That is what happened with crab claws. They were a by-product and were cheap. Now claws cost almost as much as regular crabmeat.
There are arguments over who served the first hot wings, and I won’t get into that squabble here. It doesn’t really matter. Though it appears that sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s someone fried a few chicken wings and tossed them in melted margarine mixed with hot sauce and since there was no dedicated condiment, they grabbed a container of blue cheese dressing that was lying around and a few celery sticks and served that on the side. Now we have multi-million dollar companies built around this concept. Amazing.
There are hundreds of bastardized wings being sold using hundreds of sauces and all degrees of heat. My son like boneless wings which is a terrible thing to do to a chicken wing. All of my convincing that “the sweeter the meat the nearer the bone,” falls on deaf ears.
Many of the corporate players have hopped into the hot wing game over the past decade, but my son and I have found that – like barbeque joints – the best wings are served in some of the roughest-looking places.
I have eaten more hot wings in the past three months than I have the previous 30 years. But that’s his thing. Just like the music he enjoys has nothing to do with anything I listen to, but it’s 100 percent him. It’s what he likes. He found it. He owns it. As long as it’s not harmful, I am not going to be the one who denies it. There is plenty of time for micro greens and truffles in the future.
One of the greatest parental challenges is letting kids grow into their individuality. As a child, I knew kids whose dads were doctors or lawyers and pushed their children to be doctors or lawyers. I know a few who are miserable being doctors or lawyers. I have to check myself with this. I love the restaurant business and I love writing. I probably wouldn’t mind if one of the kids followed in my footsteps. But that scenario would be all about me, not them.
I believe everyone was put on this earth with a passion. The key is to find, and then follow, that passion. My fear is my children will end up in some dead-end field for the wrong reasons and never find out what their true “purpose” in life is. I believe I am doing what I am “supposed” to do. I hope they will follow their passion. Success follows passion, every time.
Once they find that passion, I’ll be happy to sit down and eat a plate of hot wings with them (as long as they are not boneless).
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.