How Elise Peterson Is Teaching Her Son to Cook

“I let him have some sense of autonomy in the kitchen.”

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Elise Peterson is an artist, illustrator, and writer, as well as the creator and host of the podcast Cool Moms. She’s also mom to 2-year-old son Sargent. At her family’s home in Washington, D.C., Elise and Sargent cooked breakfast together, and Elise discussed the origins of Cool Moms and her approach to parenting during COVID. 

I come from a family of women who, for the most part, really like to cook. As a family, we just always had a love for cooking and cooking shows. Growing up, I was the kid who watched Martha Stewart Living for fun. I have a very distinct memory from when I was 8 years old: I was watching Martha Stewart's holiday special, and when it ended my mom came in to find me crying because I was so sad that Martha Stewart was gone.

As I grew up my awareness around food also grew. I started working as a sous-chef for a vegan chef in D.C., Lauren Von Der Pool. She really introduced me to a new way of looking at food and its health benefits. Working with her in my late teens and early twenties really changed my approach to food and made me way more adventurous in my eating. I learned how food can be really healing and how food is your first line of defense and medicine for your body.

As an artist, cooking is another form of expression.

These days, cooking is absolutely a way for me to bond with Sargent. And, as an artist, cooking is another form of expression. It's really how I show people that I love and care for them. I love to cook for people. I cook way more now than I ever have. With Sargent, we’ll cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner pretty much every day. Luckily, he loves to eat. He also really likes going to the grocery store and the farmers’ market. Anything to do with food gets him excited. It's really important for me to make sure that he has a really broad palate, so everything I eat he eats.
I started my Cool Moms podcast because at the time I was 28, living in New York, and pregnant. I was among the first of my friends to have a child. Of course, I was inundated with all of the questions of "How are you going to maintain your identity?” “What are you going to do?" I had no answers. I started seeking out the advice and guidance and stories of women who were already mothers that I respect and admired.

Those initial conversations were really the nascent stages of Cool Moms, and then a podcast just felt like the natural fit for these conversations to live. I started off with a cohost while I was living in New York. As I transitioned to L.A., Sargent got a little older, and I took on the podcast myself full-time. Now it has really, more than ever, become this community platform, especially with us being in quarantine. I think mothers in particular need an outlet to explore what it means to have a balance, or an imbalance, of being a parent and still prioritizing ourself and our passions.
During COVID, we have been displaced from our home in L.A. We had just moved out, thinking we would be traveling literally at the top of COVID and then ended up back in D.C. with my family, which is super unexpected. In the beginning, I found myself using food as a crutch. I can be an emotional eater. Before I knew it, I was like, Oh, I don't feel like myself, either, physically in my own body. I really took control of my health and started working out once, sometimes twice, a day. I’m getting back to food as a means of healing and reconnecting physically with my body. That has been monumental. I feel like a much better person at the end of the summer than I did at the start of the summer.

I’m getting back to food as a means of healing and reconnecting physically with my body. 

This time has really solidified me wanting to share the things I love and bring me joy with Sargent. One of my greatest lessons during this time also was to bet on myself, to believe in myself, and to put my energy into really building out my ideas. In making the podcast, I learned the importance of asking for help, and also being very open to help coming from some of the most unexpected places. Cool Moms will be expanding beyond podcasting into a lot of other avenues toward the end of this year and at the top of next year. We'll start having different verticals, like “Cool Moms Cook,” where Sargent and I get in front of the camera a bit and do what we like to do, which is cooking and exploring outside. Today we switched it up a bit and made breakfast. I decided to make a roasted canary melon in the Dutchess. I roasted the melon really simply on high heat, at 400-and-something degrees for maybe 25 minutes. I just roasted it with some sunflower oil and thyme. While that was cooking, I started on this West African grain that I really love called fonio. Fonio cooks a lot like couscous, but it's naturally gluten-free, so it cooks super quick and can be savory or sweet. In Deep Cut, I put in my fonio, doubled the amount of water, added some golden raisins to give it some texture, and put the lid on it and let that simmer for about four minutes. I took it off the heat, and while that was going, I went ahead and made a little steamed milk with coconut milk, cinnamon, and wild honey. When the fonio was done, I took the lid off, fluffed it up with a fork, and by then the raisins were nice and plump and juicy. Then I took the canary melon out, cut that up, brought out a bowl, and laid my fonio at the bottom of the bowl. On top I placed the roasted canary melon, along with some fig, and then poured the coconut milk–cinnamon honey mixture on top of that. It eats a lot like oatmeal. It was really yummy. That's breakfast on a good morning, of course — not a typical one. But the fonio can work for literally any morning, which is why I love it so much. Aside from the roasted melon, everything else is super simple.While we were cooking today, I gave Sargent a butter knife because he's learning what cutting means versus stabbing — which we're still working on. Today, we did a side of sliced yellow tomato with a little bit of smoked Maldon salt on top, because he really likes tomatoes and he really likes salt. That was Sargent’s big contribution. He'll always have his own little projects off to the side, where he's cutting something, probably using way too much salt on something, getting it everywhere, but he really likes it. He's constantly in the kitchen with me. 

Once Sargent made the correlation between "Okay, whatever's happening in the kitchen is what I'm going to be enjoying," then he was all about it. He’s always sitting or standing on the stool next to me. Now that he's getting a little older, I let him have some sense of autonomy in the kitchen. He’s normally not a part of the whole process, but if he can get in 15 minutes in the kitchen, he feels satisfied and then he'll go do his own thing and I can really cook. Even sometimes that's just cutting up some tomatoes on the side. Photos by Jennifer Chase

Honor who your child is, because they're their own person. Find the things that bring them joy and figure out how you can do them together.