Food News

How Samin Nosrat Is Helping Kids Try Every Kind of Food

We interviewed the chef on working with the new Netflix series "Waffles + Mochi."

March 16, 2021
Photo by Adam Rose/Netflix

Netflix’s newest food show, Waffles + Mochi, follows the adventures of a puppet with waffles for ears (hence the name) and her friend, a small ball of mochi (hence the name), as they taste their way around the world. The show premieres on the streaming platform today.

The show is anchored by Michelle Obama, who plays the owner of a supermarket where Waffles and Mochi work. Each episode centers around a single ingredient, or cooking technique, and sees the duo meeting with an array of chefs, celebrities, and celebrity chefs. Samin Nosrat is one such chef who visits the pair and dives right in to the joys of cooking, eating, and gardening. I spoke with her in advance of the show’s premiere to learn about her involvement and what makes Waffles + Mochi the must-see program of the moment for everyone (not just kids).

Photo by Adam Rose/Netflix

What got you interested in this project, and how did you feel when the producers reached out?

It was really the best email I’ve ever gotten. It felt so aligned with all of the things I believe in. At first they were writing to ask if I would share what I had learned from making my series, so I shared everything I had learned, and all the different resources and people I had met along the way who I thought would be good for them to work with, behind and in front of the camera. I was just so excited that they were doing this. I’ve always loved kids; I love working with kids. At first I was like, can I be in all the episodes?

Was there a moment when they were like, "Just get in front of the camera?"

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Top Comment:
“We watched the first epsiode tonight as a family, and my 6yr old immediately wanted to try to make the tomato candy! We looked it up, found it takes 5 hours, and put it on the list for tomorrow. But he still wanted to try the gazpacho for dinner tonight--and even his older brother tasted it. Family television, and trying new foods?!! Win Win Win!”
— eabbas
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That was always the hope. It was a puzzle for them to figure out which episode or episodes would be best. So I let them figure out where they wanted to put me. They knew they wanted to come to my house. I told them that I live in this unique place where four homes share a plot of land and a garden. Mia, my neighbor’s kid, lives here and she's always in the garden and kitchen with me. I knew she would love Waffles + Mochi.

I am so aware of how limited the representation is of people outside of one very limited kind of scope of cooks on-screen, so I was very excited for this to exist. What I wouldn't have given to have had this show as a kid. And honestly, what I wouldn't have given to have had this show as a young cook.

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Did Mia end up being in the show?

She's in my scenes with me—it's truly the most joy. The show has the most loving crew. They just were so cooperative and collegial and respectful to one another. I had no idea what goes into puppeteering. To see the physicality, skill, and craftsmanship of it—it's incredible. Even though Mia, who was four years old at the time, obviously could see that there were people bringing the puppets to life, somehow the magic of it was not broken for her.

We haven't had the premiere for her yet. We're going to have a premiere with a red carpet outside in the garden.

Photo by Adam Rose/Netflix

What are Waffles and Mochi like to work with? Did you get along?

Waffles and Mochi are so amazing. They're both incredibly curious. Waffles is very funny, with a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude. Their backstory is that they've lived in the Land of Frozen Food their whole lives, and never really had any ingredients beyond ice. They've had access to television and watched a lot of Julia Child, so they know that they want to be chefs; they just don't really know what food is yet.

They're the most perfect, wonderful, silly students, and they are so open-hearted that they make you be the best version of yourself. They're the perfect conduit for the kids at home, and allow kids to have that experience for the first time alongside them. The directors were really clear to remind me that they're not stupid, and to just talk to them like they come from another planet.

That was a really important point to make, because that's always how I try to talk to kids. They aren't stupid, and I hate it when people dumb down food. I think kids can have really sophisticated palates. Frankly, nobody wants the dumb food. Everybody wants to eat delicious, exciting food. Sometimes, it takes gradual steps to get there, but that doesn't mean that you're dumb or that you have a dumb palate. That was a really beautiful distinction for them to make.

How does that translate into recipe development? What do you think kids need to know in the kitchen?

There’s is a tendency to take all the challenging flavors out of food and make things simple and clean and bland for kids. You have your garlicky green beans separate from your plain green beans. But why would they want the plain boiled green beans and not the ones that have salt and garlic and butter on them? Those flavors, they're going to taste better for kids, too!

One thing I have always practiced in the kitchen (I did not invent this at all), is when kids have a role in the garden, and in the kitchen, they are more invested in the outcome. That's true for anybody. The first time I made sauerkraut in the kitchen of Chez Panisse, I was like, "Oh, this is what sauerkraut is, like, I'm interested, I have a relationship to this thing."

To create that relationship early in life is super important for kids—to create that investment in the garden, whether that's learning how to sprout seeds, harvest a vegetable, or pick and use herbs. Those are going to be second-nature habits later in life, rather than trying to get adults to create healthier habits.

I think another key is not forcing it. I sometimes say the rule is you have to taste, and everyone has to help in some way. But I also don't ever shame people if they don't like something.

Did you cook as a kid?

My mom was pretty territorial; the kitchen was her space. I think for her, as an immigrant parent, she wanted me and my brother not in the kitchen. She wanted us doing our homework. But she did use our hands for incredibly labor-intensive tasks. We peeled fava beans and picked herbs when there were mountains of them, or peeled eggplant.

She wanted us to have basic skills. She taught us how to cook eggs and make tuna salad. But I was not in there every day at my mom's apron strings.

You mentioned earlier this matter of representation, especially in children's TV shows. How do you see that figuring into Waffles + Mochi?

Oh my gosh, I cannot wait for you to watch this. In terms of food television, I've never seen anything this inclusive or diverse, ever.

I know the traumatic lunch-box moment at school is a trope that is overused and not necessarily applicable to everybody. But I have had plenty of friends who have been incredibly scarred. In fact, one of my colleagues has been basically lifelong scarred because of being made fun of for the way kimchi smells. There is a kimchi scene in the pickle episode, and when I watched that, all I could think about was him. This is so powerful to not only normalize kimchi, but to create this incredibly beautiful scene that builds respect by talking about kimchi, and the tradition of making it with such respect and honor, treating this food with curiosity, openness, and love. It does that for so many foods, and so many cultures across the world, so many different kinds of people.

Food is this incredibly, emotionally powerful thing, and it's incredibly powerful to our identities, especially as children. It's linked to our sense of where we come from, who we are, what we're worth, and what our cultures are worth. I think Waffles + Mochi is going to be so meaningful to kids all around the world. Not only kids, but people of all ages. It's healing to watch.

Have you watched Waffles + Mochi? Tell us your favorite episode in the comments below.


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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

13 Comments

MBE March 21, 2021
I've been flagging the comments as inappropriate but it doesn't seem that Food 52 is listening :-(
I watched last night and loved it-except for the suggestion that frozen food is maybe bad?? Not sure where that came from.
 
MBE March 22, 2021
Thank you :-)
 
Matt H. March 20, 2021
Is no one from Food52 interested in confronting the racist and sexist and transphobic language and behavior in this comment's section? It's disgusting that we're now going on day three of this vile language hanging out on this site.
 
CDVB March 20, 2021
Samin Nosrat could not be more perfect for this! She is joyful and has the exuberance of a child, absolutely love her so much! This beauty has a huge heart!
 
eabbas March 19, 2021
We watched the first epsiode tonight as a family, and my 6yr old immediately wanted to try to make the tomato candy! We looked it up, found it takes 5 hours, and put it on the list for tomorrow. But he still wanted to try the gazpacho for dinner tonight--and even his older brother tasted it. Family television, and trying new foods?!! Win Win Win!
 
MBE March 20, 2021
I think the idea is to learn to make food and by participating you are more willing to try it. Garden to kitchen to table :-)
 
MBE March 19, 2021
Can't wait to watch it!
 
Maureen March 18, 2021
I can’t wait until my child is old enough to watch this. Mrs. Obama and Ms. Nosrat are two exceptionally fine human beings and I am delighted and grateful that they’ve made this show.
 
Gale M. March 18, 2021
Our personal preferences do not have to include attacks and nastiness.
 
CDVB March 20, 2021
perhaps you can't grasp that this is a story about a CHILDREN'S show, no one needs your snarky remarks. There are lots of forums out there for you to rant. Take it somewhere else.
 
Maria T. March 18, 2021
Love Michelle ❤️ Love Samin ❤️ Can’t wait to hear more! Awesome treat! 🙏🏼🌟👍
 
John Q. March 18, 2021
What kind of 💩 is Obama doing now. Is she trying to win the people over with her show? It won’t work. Too many people can’t stand her as it is.
 
Key March 18, 2021
Odd, she always speaks highly of you...