Happy childhood memories of being in the kitchen are often an essential ingredient in the love many chefs and other grownups have for cooking. The joy of spending time at the stove with grandparents, parents and other relatives often inspires their passion for preparing meals.
“Growing up, I was always around my parents as they cooked. It is what brought the family together,” says Michael Reed, a California restaurateur. The executive chef and co-owner of Poppy + Rose and Poppy & Seed in Los Angeles bonds the same way with his daughter, Mackenzie.
The four-and-a-half-year-old shares what that means when Reed asks Mackenzie whether likes making breakfast. “Yeah, because I like cooking with my Daddy,” she answers.
Passing on Cooking Skills
Chef Reed gives the primary reason for passing on cooking skills to his daughter. It is the joy they get from sharing the time together. “It is a real game changer when you can spend 30 minutes making a meal with your child. That’s not a time you are stressing out and thinking about I’ve got to get dinner on the table. It is quality time you are spending with your kid.”
Another motivation comes from his view of what young people today miss out on by staying away from the stove. “A lot of younger generations don’t know how to cook basic stuff and fend for themselves,” says Reed.
The restaurateur believes teaching youngsters how to cook fosters independence and safety. He finds it more effective to satisfy children’s curiosity instead of simply telling them not to touch potentially harmful things in the kitchen.
“It allows them to do something dangerous, but in a supervised setting, like learning to use a knife,” the 39-year-old father explains. “It’s sharp. But if you can get them to understand it, they are safer around real knives. Same thing about understanding stovetops. Yes, it’s hot, but it is how you cook.”
Mackenzie uses plastic knives made for kids. She describes some kitchen tools when her dad asks what she is learning. “I’m learning to use a knife, a peeler and my little cutters. My little cutters are in shapes. You put it on the food, squish it and pull it apart,” says the preschooler.
“She has cutters in three different shapes,” Reed adds before Mackenzie reveals the cutter shapes. “It’s a bunny, a bear and a mushroom.”
Exploring and Progressing
Reed began exploring cooking with Mackenzie when she was still a toddler. She was just two-and-a-half when they did a video for LA Weekly. They demonstrated how to make shepherd’s pie from Thanksgiving leftovers. “Over a couple of years that she’s been doing this, you can see the progression of her skill set and what she likes to eat and taste.”
Her dad sees how their cooking adventures are expanding Mackenzie’s palate. “We were cutting up fennel yesterday. She’s had it before, but she didn’t remember having it. I ask her to try something while we’re cutting up vegetables, just to get her to eat different things,” adds Reed.
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Quite a few youngsters want to avoid eating the vegetables on their plates. Some kids learn to love them, while others become vegetable-hating adults. Reed asks Mackenzie to name her favorite vegetable. “Carrots!” she replies, followed by cucumbers and trees (broccoli).
“You just have to work with them and see how their palate develops, what they like and don’t like. Mackenzie is a good eater, so she eats a lot of vegetables really well,” says her dad. He does most of the cooking on his days off from the two restaurants he owns with his wife, Kwini. Their daughter also shares time cooking with her mother’s father, John Musgrove.
“Kwini’s dad does a lot of the cooking for her when we’re at the restaurant at night. He’ll do like fish or salmon cakes,” Reed continues. And to that, Mackenzie responds, “Yummy!” She says the same thing about the cookies made with her dad’s mom, Carolyn Reed.
Mackenzie’s Favorite Foods
Tandoori chicken was on the menu for a recent family dinner. Pasta is a more frequent choice for father and daughter dinner preparations on Mondays, the chef’s day off. “We have a stockpile of dry pasta and tomato sauce. We’ll look in the fridge, see what we have left from the weekend and put something simple together.”
Mackenzie’s favorite meal to cook is breakfast. “We make breakfast all the time, so pancakes, waffles and scrambled eggs, says Reed.” He then asks Mackenzie what she wants to learn how to make. “How to make apple pie,” she says. “You can make that with grandma,” he tells Mackenzie, and she exclaims, “Yay! Grandma!”
The four-and-a-half-year-old chef’s daughter is enthusiastic about the food served at her parents’ restaurants. She tells her dad why she likes Poppy + Rose the best. “It is my favorite because they make yummy stuff,” Mackenzie says.
“Poppy & Seed is a little more adult, but she eats the chicken, steak and spaghetti with meatballs,” Chef Reed declares. He also shares how his daughter views the family businesses. “She thinks they are her restaurants. So she’ll wander around. She’ll come into the kitchen and find me when I’m back there. She treats it like her second home.”
This exchange clarifies how much Mackenzie loves her dad’s cooking: “Have you ever had something I made that you don’t like to eat?” Reed inquires. Mackenzie replies, “Nooo.” Reed responds, “Seriously, I do that good of a job? And she says, “Uh-huh.”
Recent Restaurant Recognition
Some well-known culinary experts also think highly of Reed’s cooking. He is one of two Orange County nominees selected as 2023 James Beard Award semifinalists in the Best Chef: California category. “To me, I’m humbled by the nomination. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over 20 years and feel like this is proof that we’re starting to really hit our stride.”
The James Beard Foundation honor comes just two years after the opening of Poppy & Seed in Anaheim. The Reeds created a greenhouse restaurant with outdoor space. Ingredients from the garden and local farmers markets produce seasonally-inspired dishes and menus.
“The semifinalist notation has definitely created more curiosity and interest around what we do at Poppy & Seed and Poppy + Rose,” says Reed. “We’re hoping to turn that new audience into return guests based on the experiences we provide.”
As self-funded restaurant owners, Michael and Kwini are excited about expanding their reach. Later this year, they plan to open a third location at San Pedro’s West Harbor waterfront development. The new Poppy + Rose will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tomorrow’s Lessons and Dreams
While Mackenzie’s parents work on adding a third restaurant to their brand, her dad will also broaden her culinary experiences. Reed expects to do more cooking videos with his daughter and more complex dishes. “We’ll make fresh pasta at the house. We’ll keep diversifying her portfolio. We’ll go through some Italian cooking and then do the American classics.”
The chef’s little girl looks forward to cooking for her friends someday and maybe creating a dad-and-daughter cookbook. But Mackenzie points out that she already has one cookbook. “It’s a popsicle cookbook,” she says. Reed notes, “It shows her how to make all kinds of different flavor popsicles in the summertime.”
The restaurateur admits that keeping young children entertained and interested during longer cooking sessions is sometimes challenging. But both father and daughter express their desire to continue cooking together. “I don’t need her to become the next great chef, but I do want her to be independent and have the back story of what we did as a family while running restaurants and cooking,” says Reed.
Her parents’ success already inspires Mackenzie to dream big about her future. “I want to cook first and then become an astronaut!”
Follow the Reeds and their restaurants on Instagram @chefmichaelreed, @poppyandrosela and @poppyandseedoc.