Baby Food Chef Series: Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo

The award-winning duo love cheese and cake, just like the rest of us.

Our best-selling Yumi Chef Series is proof that baby food should not only be real, it should also be really delicious.

In the diapered land of baby brigades, many iconic duos exist: peas and carrots, Bert and Ernie, Mr. Rogers and his cardigans. 

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, aka Jon and Vinny, the wildly successful– and James Beard award-winning– chefs, are not amongst them.

But they will be. 

These two dudes sit on top of a culinary empire, which includes Jon & Vinny’s, Animal, Son of a Gun, and Petit Trois. But with their Yumi collaboration they’ve managed to merge the world of Bib Gourmand with little bibbed gourmands (aka, babies). 

Read on as the two discuss their own eating habits, 2021 food forecasting, and why even world-renowned chefs have a hard time getting their kids to eat veggies.

Are there certain smells or flavors of your childhood that influenced your feelings about food? 

JON: Mangos, papayas, bananas, sugar cookies. I didn’t have any feelings about food until my teens. It specifically happened when I had real mashed potatoes for the first time. As a baby of the ‘80s, I grew up with spuds in a box and where I grew didn’t have much food culture. But, when I had real mashed potatoes from potatoes, I knew I had to learn how to make it.

VINNY: Wow, so many. The smell of oranges because I used to live near an orange grove. This place processed and turned oranges into orange juice and they used to sell a soft serve creamsicle twist (orange and vanilla). I would go all the time up until after high school.  Another smell of my childhood is an Italian deli. My family used to always go in all the time and get products.

Do you have any early memories in the kitchen you can share? 

JON: My earliest memory of cooking something was instant brownies with my older brother for my mom’s birthday. My brother misread the instructions and instead of baking for 30 minutes and resting for 2 hours before eating, my brother read it as bake for 2 hours and rest for 30 minutes. We totally ruined our mom’s favorite baking dish!

VINNY: I was always in the kitchen. I used to love licking the beaters when my dad would make mashed potatoes or bake a cake. My grandmother used to set up our little fryer in the backyard and made me fry the french fries outside.

If we were to travel back in time, and five-year-old you were to make us a dish, what would it be? 

JON: Tuna melt – this was the first thing that I learned to make myself at home.

VINNY: I used to be obsessed with making nachos. I would melt the cheese on the chips in the microwave.

Did you have feelings about baby food prior to collaborating with Yumi? 

JON: I had a lot of feelings about baby food because I would always taste my kids baby food before feeding it to them. I tasted a lot of baby food and the thing that was always so shocking to me was just how “baby” the food was. I loved our first collab with Yumi where we could introduce “adult” flavors in kid-like form.

VINNY: I ate baby food all the way until I was a teenager. I used to love this plum baby food made by Gerber that I used to just eat. I thought it tasted so good.

Have those feelings shifted after developing blends for our littlest friends? 

JON: We factor in introducing adult flavors.

VINNY: Still love baby food – might love it even more! I love thinking about connecting how to feed children good food at an even earlier age than I thought I would.

Do you think it’s important for babies to “eat the rainbow” as we say (aka, eat more than pouch peas and carrots)? 

JON: 100%. With my kids, I also never fear or shun the not so nutrient items like sugar. I just try to control their portion sizes. For me, I don’t mind if they have ice cream as long as it’s a controlled amount.

VINNY: Of course. I think it’s important that we expose them to as many things as they will potentially absorb.

Did your relationship with food change once you had kids of your own? 

JON: Yes, I found myself eating more food that kids like. I backed down on some of the spice and I find myself eating things that I haven’t in a long time.

VINNY: Of course. I had to make things considering their palate. I cook a lot of simple things for them. I cook even less complex for myself than I did before.

Do award-winning chefs have a hard time getting their kids to eat veggies too? 

JON: When my wife makes it – yes, but when I cook it – no, but I season with salt. If you make vegetables taste good it won’t matter that it’s a vegetable.

VINNY: Yes and no. Kids like to take a  stance on what they like, but if you keep putting it in front of them they’ll eventually try it and hopefully like it.

Any tricks for getting tots to eat healthy foods? 

JON: My trick that I did with both of my kids is that when I began introducing food to them, I gave them one taste of a drop of soda. Now they’ll always try something I bring to them because they know that it could be really good! I have more difficulty now with my 5 year old son eating proteins because he mostly enjoys eating raw vegetables, carbs like pasta or rice and salads.

VINNY: Pretend it’s an airplane.

We find you in the kitchen at midnight, what are you snacking on? 

JON: It really depends on my mood, but lately I would be snacking on blackberries. But really depending on what’s keeping me up so late, it could be left over Thai food, cereal or a pb&j sandwich.

VINNY: Dark chocolate.

What’s the one food you know is SO good for you, but you just can’t bring yourself to eat it. 

JON: Kale. I have an actual intolerance for brassicas vegetables.

VINNY: I really do love healthy food. I have a hard time with fermented fish like herring, but I like sardines and stuff like that.

Any food forecasting for 2021? 

JON: I think that as restaurants are allowed to serve again, people will want and crave the experience of going out to eat towards and eating with large groups. Hopefully by the end of the year!

VINNY: If we’re allowed to come back in restaurants, I think people will come back for great food, but with really great hospitality. The experience will go a long way.

What is the food we should all be eating this year?

JON: Lentils.

VINNY: More cake!


Read more about the Yumi Chef Series featuring Chef Malcolm Livingston II and Chef Beverly Kim

Get Yumi x Jon & Vinny’s best-selling Polenta Mushroom Bolognese here.  

Let’s build a healthier generation together