Chef Bryant Ng’s chicken rice recipe calls for jasmine rice cooked in a ginger broth and poached Mary’s free-range chicken. It’s a minimalist dish, without any of the Singaporean-Vietnamese flavors, the fermented shrimp paste and sambal sauces that Ng used at Spice Table or that will load the menu at his new restaurant, Cassia. This is because Ng cooks his chicken rice dish not for his legion of devoted diners but for his dog, Teddy, full name Theodore Roosevelt Luu-Ng, a Yorkshire terrier.
If you’re a chef, you cook for your customers, your family and your friends — and if your family includes a rescued mutt or your kid’s golden retriever, it stands to reason that you might cook for them too.
Most of us who cook and also have pets are used to sharing. We give our dogs leftovers, hand them marrow bones, watch as our kids slip them meatballs or make bacon cakes for their birthdays. But with growing concern about the safety of the food chain — for people and for animals — chefs are cooking more than treats for their pets. Some might say it’s over-indulgence, but if you’re worried about the ingredients in your own dinner, you may very well be worried about what’s in that can of pet food as well.
Over at Red Bread, Rose Lawrence initially just made baked crackers for her two rescued pit bulls, Blue and Honey. Then she skipped the baking, since she had enough of that to do for her own bakery, and started making hand-rolled batches of mint and parsley pasta, shaping them into bows or making large batches of lasagna with roasted sweet potato or beet purée, ground beef and a little Parmesan.
Pastry chef Sherry Yard has made peanut butter whole wheat dog biscuits for years, giving them away at Spago Christmas parties. And at McCall’s Meat & Fish Co. in Los Feliz, co-owner Karen Yoo, a former Sona pastry chef, bakes dog biscuits in the shop’s bakery. She says that the shop also sells 10 to 15 pounds of bones a week just for dogs, as well as chicken, salmon and beef, to customers who buy meat from the butcher shop not only for themselves but for their pets.
But the chef who might have them all beat is Debbie Lee, author of “Seoultown Kitchen” and an alum of “The Next Food Network Star.” Lee cooks for her dog, Jackie, a lab-shepherd mix, every day. Lee says that she started cooking all her dog’s meals at the recommendation of her vet, to help nurse her back to health after she was rescued. For breakfast, Lee makes her oatmeal with bananas and peanut butter; for dinner a mix of brown rice and chicken, beef, lamb and chicken liver with sweet potatoes and berries. Lee, whose specialty — for people — is Korean street food, also gives her dog bone broth.
“Definitely the chef in me plays into how I cook for her,” Lee says. “If I won’t eat it, I don’t expect her to.”
Lee says that she’s become so interested in cooking for Jackie that she’s even been thinking of developing a “farm fresh” dog food line. “The next phase of my chef career,” she says.
And maybe the next phase in all our cooking.