Chef Home Cooking: Eating Dinner With the Dogs

Plate of homemade dog treats
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Do you know who Georges Perrier is? Although he's the original celebrity chef, you’d be forgiven for not knowing how brilliant he is. But I do. Which is why when I was asked  to write an introduction to a book of dog food recipes, with a contribution by chef Perrier of Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin fame, I leapt at the chance.

Forget molecular gastronomy and fusion tapas. They’re so over. Enter what I hope will be a new trend in modern cuisine: recipes and preparation advice for meals you can enjoy with your pets –– as in, to share with them. Really.

And why not?

Humans have no claim on food, as much as we like to call anything edible that doesn’t come in a bag or can with a pet’s picture on it “people food.” And we employ this language without irony, as if we greedy humans own the entire planet’s comestibles — or, worse, we assume that only mass-produced, machine-extruded foods are healthy for our pets.

I feed my pets commercial foods, primarily because two of my brood suffer from conditions that require dietary management, and because convenience is important to me with my hectic schedule. But that doesn’t mean I can’t supplement their fare with wonderful home-cooked stuff (although I do have to be careful with my food-allergic dog and urinary calculus-prone cat).

It also does not mean that I don’t revere those people (like my sister) who cook every meal for their pets –– without fail. In her case, she worked with a veterinary nutritionist to create a flexible recipe that worked well for her dogs. (You can find one at AAVN.org.) But I don’t think you need a fancy nutritionist or a Ph.D. to feed your pets your own home cooking — despite what conventional wisdom on the subject of people food dictates.

So why does everyone get so riled over how bad people food is for pets? Sure, some animals have serious health issues. Others have dietary intolerances. Many have lived on the one-bag-of-kibble-for-life diet for so long that almost anything they eat that’s out of their normal regimen will send them into a diarrhetic tailspin. (Not a nice visual, I know.)

But as I explained in my introduction to The Culinary Canine, which has recipes from lots of famous chefs, not just Georges Perrier, most fears about people food are unfounded. Sure, introducing new ingredients gradually is recommended, and speaking to a nutritionist before offering anything home-cooked to a pet with a specific medical condition is always a good idea. But the idea that you can’t offer a homemade dog biscuit or ladle a soupçon of stew over kibble every now and again is absolutely overblown.

Then there’s the issue of throwing a pet’s diet off its optimal nutritional axis. I respectfully offer all those naysayers this: Even human nutritionists don’t always know what’s best for people. Why should we expect veterinary nutritionists to have all the answers, especially given that we know so much less about the nutritional needs of dogs, cats, horses and other companion animals?

Then again, none of the recipes in this fun cookbook were intended to serve as a basis for a complete and balanced diet. And since we don’t always know exactly what’s best for our pets, why not offer more variety? That is, if your culinary skills and your pet’s constitution allow it.

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