The Best Things Mom Taught Me About Food

By on Friday, May 11th, 2012

Times have changed in the kitchen. New ways of cooking, better appliances, more gender mixing (female chefs, male home cooks) are all signs of progress.

But most of us still have our strongest associations of food and cooking with our moms. Sunday is the big day where Mom theoretically gets a break from the kitchen but today we’re going to call her back to the place we remember her best—in the kitchen, teaching us (sometimes lecturing us) about what it means to love and create good food.

Thomas Humbock
Executive Chef, Swing Wine Bar and Cafe
Olympia, WA
I remember being in the 4th grade and having dinner one night. My mom had gotten those recipe cards that you could order through the mail–you know, the ones that came in a handy dandy filing case. They had recipes from around the world, and every month you received a different set.

Anyway, for a kid that craved Kraft macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, this could sometimes lead to a very long night at the dinner table.

This particular night was “Greek Night!” Starting with dolmas as the appetizer, we moved on to avgolemono (lemon-chicken soup) and finished with moussaka.

This 9-year old boy got the first plate and just stared at it. There were these “leaves” on my plate! My first response was “No way am I eating that;” but I had to try it because those were the rules. Okay…these are really pretty good!

Next up was the soup, mind you, Campbell’s chicken noodle was the norm. Lemon, huh? It was great! Who knew?

The entree came out and honestly…didn’t look too good. I remember asking what was in it and my mom said it was ground lamb. What? All I could picture were the cute little lambs we played with at our friends’ farm. One bite was all it took, two helpings later my Greek experience was finished…

…and it was the best meal of my young life! From that night I looked forward to different “cuisines” and expanded my repertoire of new and exciting foods that to this day is never ending.

My mom showed me that cooking and trying new things was fun and tasty. She is the reason I learned to love cooking. So mom…thank you for all you shared (good and even bad)—you are and always will be my inspiration!

Will Nolan
Executive Chef
Viceroy Snowmass
I grew up in New Orleans and my mom used to take me to the fresh seafood markets in the gulf, from Florida to Louisiana. Markets where you literally watched the fisherman unloading their catch into the ice bins where we chose our bounty. She is probably the biggest fan of jumbo lump blue crabmeat in the south, so we were always on a search for the white gold of the gulf. I have even served a dish she makes for us on special occasions at my restaurant. It consists of chilled asparagus, avocado, tomato, butter lettuce, Creole mustard and crabmeat with classic vinaigrette, which I named after her: Crabmeat Suzanne.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
Founder,, Chef and Butler

I am a southern small town girl from Cameron South Carolina, and I flunked home economics in school.  I didn’t want to make the boxed cake my high school teacher said to make. My mother tried to teach me to cook but I listened to no one. She did teach me how to make home made pizza and cheese biscuits that I crave to this day and how to not make green pepper steak. My grandmother was also a fabulous cook. Going to her house for fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits and green beans was what we kids starved all year long for.

Eduard Frauneder
Co-owner Seasonal Restaurant & Weinbar, Edi & the Wolf, New York City
I learned to make Kaiserschmarren from my mom while growing up in Austria. My mom, who owned bakeries with my father, spent most of her time in the pastry shop. Sundays were a day for the whole family to come together over breakfast and stir up some Kaiserschmarren, a traditional Austrian pancake with a fruit compote sauce. Like most children, my brother and I preferred sweets over fruits and vegetables. In order to get our daily intake, my mother would hide bits of plum or apple in these pancakes.

Kaiserschmarren was known as a “poor man’s food.” Growing up, every household always had flour, milk and eggs to make the dish, which could be considered a complete meal on Friday when meat was not allowed. Ironically enough, the dish is now one of the most popular items served during brunch at my tavern.

Nicholas Elmi, Chef
Rittenhouse Tavern, Philadelphia, PA

I was one of six children, and my mother always cooked and made sure we ate dinner together every night. It wasn’t so much that my mother taught me a special technique or secret recipe—she taught me to cook with heart. You know when you go over to someone’s house and they either slaved over something, or they threw it together? My mother taught me that if you’re going to cook, do so with true effort and love. Then, you won’t have to tell people how hard it was to find ingredients or how difficult the recipe was—they will just know.

Ed Brown, Chef
Rittenhouse Tavern, Philadelphia, PA; Ed’s Chowder House, New York City

My mom is a great cook. She always said to be prepared for anything, including extra guests—we would have dinners for 6 that turned into 16 in a blink, so cooking more than what was needed always helped.

Eric O’Neill
Founder, Smart Kitchen, Scottsdale, AZ

I remember my mom always standing over my shoulders when I’m making jasmine rice, and scolding me if I stirred it during the cooking process. “Don’t make my rice sticky!”

She always taught me to reach for my dreams! Also, to reach for ingredients she wasn’t tall enough to get.

I remember the hundreds of times I would put salt in dishes and she convinces herself I’m trying to kill her.

The best memory of my mom cooking is her stocking the kitchen with delicious groceries. Then she hands me a recipe and tells me, “Let me show you what you are making for dinner.”

Roberto Donna, Chef/Owner
La Forchetta, Washington DC

Mama Donna always said "waste not, want not." Only in Italian.

The most important thing I learned from my mother was how to use up all the leftovers while growing up in a small town near Torino, Italy. She use to cook the most incredible dishes using the ends of prosciutto, ham and mortadella. She would make the most incredible stews incorporating the meat trimmings as well as jams from ripened fruit that she was unable to sell at her neighborhood grocery store.  During my time spearheading the kitchen I remember not to waste anything—use all the resources you have.


Written by Erika Kotite

Erika Kotite is an editor, writer and owner of Toque.


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  2. Mark Moreno says:

    The Best Things Mom Taught Me About Food: Times have changed in the kitchen. New ways of cooking, … via @toquemag

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  4. WAFFLE STOP says:

    The Best Things Mom Taught Me About Food: Times have changed in the kitchen. New ways of cooking, … via @toquemag

  5. The Best Things Mom Taught Me About Food: Times have changed in the kitchen. New ways of cooking, … via @toquemag

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