Young and Hungry

Chefs and the Mothers Who Influenced Them

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Mexican chef Patricia Jinich influences the next generation, her son Julian

As noted earlier today — and sorry to keep rubbing this in, if you haven't made those brunch reservations yet — Mother's Day is this weekend. I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask some chefs and cooks what kind of influence their mothers had on their careers.

The results ranged wildly. Take a look at their edited e-mail responses.

Casey Patten, chef and co-owner of Taylor Gourmet:

My mother really never cooked that much or what she cooked I usually didn't like. So...that is how I started to experiment in the kitchen as a kid.

I attached my mother to this email. She will be thrilled to see my response 😉 Happy Mothers Day.

Cookbook author Joan Nathan:

My mother showed me by example that every meal is an event and should be treated as such. She also showed me the simple art of flower arranging to go with the meal. But above all she is still showing me at 96 years old that the process of cooking is one of the great adventures of every day living.

Patricia Jinich, cooking instructor, food writer, and chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute:

[M]y Mother's influence on my cooking and view of food is truly immense. Though she worked and still works full time and didn't cook everyday, whenever there was an occasion for celebration, whatever the excuse was, she would put together these extraordinary meals. And the same exquisite sensitivity she has for admiring nature, filling our house with flowers and even doing her hair.... all the little details, she had same approach with food. Everything she touches, or makes, turns out exquisite.

I remember her at night, when I was growing up, before going to bed, browsing through my Austrian grandmother's immense cookbooks. Getting ideas for what the next meal would be. Then she combined that with the ingredients found in Mexico City's markets. After all, Mexican food is a combination of European influences and techniques with the native Mexican ingredients and techniques. So from her research in old cookbooks and family's recipes and going to the markets early on Saturday morning where she would search for the freshest and most exotic things with the sellers who let buyers smell and grab and taste what they are showcasing, to spending hours in the kitchen creating all these to-die-for foods... It was a full blown production! Even if it was a simple dish. So I grew up with a feeling of awe toward food. And I owe most of that overwhelming sense of awe toward food to her. Though my father is a beast at eating and savoring too...

James Alefantis, owner/chef of Comet Ping Pong and owner of Buck's Fishing  and Camping:

My mother Susan was a caterer. As a small child I used to sit on her marble counter watching the mixer spin batter and dream about being a baker. I made her get me a tall bakers hat that I would wear while sitting on the counter. This fantasy lasted until I stuck a large wooden spoon into the mixer while it was running and burnt out the engine.

Now I have a sixty gallon mixer! And it has a guard.

Dean Gold, chef and owner of Dino:

My mom cooked everything from scratch and rarely used canned ingredients [Dole canned pineapple for her famous Hawaiian Chicken, which was neither]. She may have overcooked things often, but she inspired in me a love of product and, if only to make up for her overcooking ways, a respect for cooking them simply and properly.

The only memories of my growing up that involve my mom and not fighting like cats and dogs were those of cooking!

R.J. Cooper, chef at Vidalia:

My mother, the fantastic woman she is still influences my home with her cooking. When I was a kid she would make the usual Midwestern meal of the typical middle American families. She is, however, a closet gourmand with an extremely great palate. Pam would go to the high-end Detroit restaurants on Friday nights (Rattlesnake Club, the London Chop House, the Lark, the Bijou, etc.) and tell me the stories the next day about the wonderful smells and flavors she experienced.

I grew up in Detroit, where she exposed me and my brothers to a plethora of ethnic foods. Whether it was going to Hamtramck to see the Polish woman make pierogi and pastries, to Dearborn for Middle Eastern food as authentic as in the home lands, to the east side where you can go to all the regions of Italy or when traveling to the UP and getting fried chicken at Frankenmuth.

Pam has cast one spell on me that will never ever go away. Where she grew up in Farmington, Michigan, there is a hamburger joint called Green's. My grandparents purchased their house in the early 60s, and this burger shop has been there with them. To this day, when I fly to Detroit, I have to stop at Green's before I see my grandmother. She tells me every time "R.J., I'm still playing second fiddle to Green's." I say, "What do you mean, Grams? I haven't had a burger yet." Her reply: "I can smell the grease on your hands, the grilled onions on your breath, and see the mustard and ketchup mix on your cheek. You can't ever just come straight to the house; you have to have your fix."

Photo courtesy of Patricia Jinich

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Aww.

  • http://yours sandy speir

    I just have to say that I have never had the desire to go to D.C. but after just watching diners, drive-ins and dives, OMG your food looks absolutely amazing! Have you ever thought about opening a Comet in Austin, Texas? My mouth is watering just thinking about this episode. Everything looked awesome and I almost felt like I had "smell-a-vision".

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