In honor of Mother’s Day, we reached out to some of our favorite famous chefs to see how their mothers influenced their culinary career. The ways these mothers influenced their chef children are endless. Some inspired a love of sweets or impressed key organization skills. Others passed on secret family recipes that can heal and bond families together or taught simple lessons like “don’t cook barefoot.” For all of these chefs, the wisdom of Mom formed the foundation of their culinary expertise.
"My mother taught me everything I know about cooking. However, the most important thing I learned in the kitchen from her is cleanliness and organization. The apartment that I grew up in cooking with my mother has a tiny kitchen and it makes restaurant kitchens look like a palace, so you have no choice but to work cleanly!"
“Possibly the most important thing my mother taught me how to cook was rice when I was 10 years old. I know that may sound like an easy thing but cooking rice perfectly every time (without a rice cooker) is not as easy as one may think.”
“My mom was a professional cook, and as we all know, chefs don't like to reveal all the secrets of their dishes. That was the same with my mother. Every time we made schnitzel together there was another tip, trick, or new addition to the dish. She never revealed all of it, not even to her own son! By now, I’ve perfected it and am able serve it the same way she did it at Bâtard. She taught me that clarified butter is the key to the flavor and texture; that the potato salad needs to be made fresh that day and never goes in the fridge after marinating; to spray a little water on the meat before breading so the panade rises perfectly. The rest I’ll reveal next year’s Mother’s Day — the same as my mom would.”
“I vividly remember my mother not being a cook, she did not create her own versions of dishes, but when it came to baking cookies, she had many versions.
I grew up in the early ‘70s in Germany when most boys/men were not interested in learning their way around the kitchen; it was a woman's place. After watching my mother create and the reactions people had to her cookies, I knew I wanted to learn her skills — her art of baking. My mother’s specialty was Christmas cookies (and stollen). Everyone in our community knew about her cookies and looked forward to eating them around the holidays. She was known not just for cookies, but for creating her own recipes that included cookies filled with homemade jams, shapes, etc.
Learning this art that includes preciseness and measuring helped pave the way to where my career is today as chocolatier for L.A. Burdick Chocolates.”
“I learned from my mom that you can make amazing and authentic new Indian dishes with leftovers found in your fridge. For example, when I was a child my mom would take leftover veggies and curry and turn it into stuffed vegetable paratha or mixed vegetable yogurt raita with spiced pickles. She would serve these inventive dishes along with hot chai tea, and some of my fondest memories were of our family members and friends begging her to make these dishes whenever she could find the time."
“The earliest memories I have of my mother are of me expressing that I wanted to be a chef and her supporting me 110 percent. She supported me so much so, that when I was just 10 years old, she was buying me college-level cookbooks. My first cookbook copy was Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook, and my passion for the culinary field increased tenfold after experimenting in the kitchen with the recipes within it. At 12, I was studying The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook. I surprisingly really loved baking French desserts — éclairs, soufflés — you name it, I was baking it. So, on Mother’s Day, I like to prepare my mom something that reminds her of when I was falling in love with being a chef. I’ll pick a new French pastry or dessert recipe so we can reminisce back to when I was just 10–12 years old filled with dreams and ambitions of running my own kitchen one day.”
“I learned how to roll gnocchi from my mother. My sisters and I grew up playing in her kitchen with the flour and potatoes that she used to make gnocchi every Sunday, and now it’s been fun teaching her my own tricks for rolling gnocchi. For example, I taught her to always cool down the boiled and riced potatoes before they are mixed into the flour. Because the cold potatoes don’t give off any steam or humidity, they don’t need as much flour to hold the mixture together, and therefore the final product is more tender.”
“1. NEVER COOK BAREFOOT!
2. Respect and pay attention to raw, perishable ingredients: how long they have been out, what temperature they are at, keeping hands and surfaces sanitary. Your fridge door and faucet handles are the dirtiest places in the kitchen.
3. If you are entertaining and making multiple dishes, tape a list to a cabinet door in plain sight where you can keep track of what time you put dishes in, at what temperature, and for how long. And to make sure that everything gets served! My family still won't completely forgive me for forgetting about and burning my mom's amazing spinach pie… three Thanksgivings ago.”
“My favorite thing that my mom taught me to make is a good soup. Growing up — or even now whenever I visit my parents — they would take turns making me soup. The Chinese believe in drinking soup or broth to detox, cleanse, and calm our bodies. An outstanding chicken soup comes from good ingredients and patience. I like to go to the market for fresh ingredients. I start with a whole chicken in a stock pot, add in slices of ginger, goji berry, scallion or leeks, a dash of shoaxing cooking wine, dried scallops, and fresh kelp for umami. Mom would always put in gingko for added flavor — or, in her words, to enhance brain power. It's Chinese ancient wisdom.”
“My mother was a great cook. I remember all the times we spent making cookies together. She taught me so much about the metric system and how recipes could be precise. In fact, I am in a cookbook about the metric system as a kid.”