Little Nest: feels (and tastes) just like home
“Food is family, family is life, life is everything.”
This quote by Australian celebrity chef George Calombaris greets website visitors seeking info about Vancouver’s beloved Little Nest, a delightful cafe that has rapidly become an institution for parents and kids throughout the Lower Mainland. Since opening its doors three years ago, Little Nest has been heartily cheered by moms, dads, grandparents and babysitters desperate for a fun place that serves fabulous food and welcomes kids.
It’s a rare find. In fact, a lot of parents feel like good dining experiences are a thing of the past once they've had children. Fortunately, a new crop of restaurant owners is beginning to follow in Little Nest's very successful footsteps and cater their menus (and décor!) to the pint-sized set. Here we speak with Little Nest owner and pastry chef, Mary Macintyre, about what motivated her to open a restaurant that appeals to families and foodies alike.
BT: What inspired you to open Little Nest?
MM: My intention with Little Nest was primarily to have a place that served good food, good coffee and fresh baked goods to have with that coffee. I was inspired by cafes back home in Australia that have that feeling of being in someone’s home. It's a little idiosyncratic and never feels like a chain. The idea to make it family friendly just evolved naturally. I have two kids, so wanted to work in a child friendly environment so my children could be here if need be. And I felt personally there weren't enough family friendly places in Vancouver, certainly not ones that served food I wanted to eat.
BT: We love the George Calombaris quote on your website. Can you tell us how you connect food and family?
MM: If I think of my role as a parent, my role is to nurture, provide, sustain. Food is the most basic expression of this. My mother-in-law doesn't speak much English (she is Vietnamese) but she puts so much love into family meals. My sons in turn, express so much appreciation in their broken attempts at Vietnamese. Not every mealtime is sublime in my home, but my husband and I have a passion for good food- slow food that we try to share with our kids. So many lessons can be taught through food: the origins of interesting ingredients, the turning of seasons, the impact of food production, the science of baking.
BT: As the mom of two young children, what is a tried and true dish you like to prepare for your family?
MM: I think my husband's Vietnamese meals are the easiest and most successful in our home. He will poach a free-range chicken in a fragrant broth (maybe put garlic, ginger and onions in there) and then he'll blanch some greens (usually pea tips or cress), he'll steam some rice and make some Nuoc Cham (lime juice, garlic, fish sauce and palm sugar) to dip it all together.
BT: Do you have any tips for busy working parents, like yourself, in dealing with the challenges of mealtimes?
MM: I must point out that, although I have an ideal of family dining, it is often a gong show at my place too! I think that timing with meals is important. Having an early dinner works for my family, 5:30 is ideal. Otherwise they snack at 4:30 and aren't hungry until 6:30 or 7pm which is way too close to bedtime and everyone is cranky! It's important I think to try and enjoy dinner no matter how frustrating the child on the hunger strike is being. It's a great time to talk and reflect on the day. I find with kids when you switch off the button they stop pressing it. So my advice - whether I can always follow it or not - is to relax.
BT: Can you share a special mealtime tradition (or meal!) that you had growing up in Australia?
MM: The quintessential family meal in Australia would be the roast. Usually lamb traditionally eaten on Sunday. Roasts are great, you just dress it up with some aromatics, stick it in the oven with some veggies for an hour or so and there you are! I often roast a chicken one day a week and then the next day use the leftovers in soup or as a pizza topping.
BT: Little Nest uses a lot of local ingredients in its menu. Can you tell us what some of your favourites to cook or bake with are?
MM: Well my favourite ingredient in the world is egg! It is the most versatile little source of protein. You can boil, poach, fry, bake or scramble. I love whipping the whites into meringues and folding them into cakes, or using the yolks for a custard or ice cream or curd or sabayon. [Eggs] are truly magical!
We agree - thanks for sharing your experiences with family and food with us Mary!
And, we'd love to hear from you too about your family mealtimes and any tips you would like to share with other busy parents. Join our conversation on Facebook and become eligible to win this week's prize draw for a set of egg poacher pods from Cookworks!