Mothers love us, care for us, and, of course, feed us. Our earliest experiences with food are largely shaped by the caring folks who cooked for and with us as we grew up. Not surprisingly then, many chefs are using their menus to pay homage to the mothers who delighted them with homespun recipes, often using garden-fresh ingredients. In honor of Mother’s Day, chefs share dishes inspired by mom.
Sergio Emilio Monleón, La Marcha, Berkeley, California
Chef Sergio Emilio Monleón was raised California but in a Spanish household and he spent eight years in Madrid. His mother made paella all the time when he was growing up and hers is the inspiration behind the restaurant’s version of Paella Mixta, which features head-on prawns, chicken, chorizo, garlic, sweet peppers, saffron, and rice. Make a reservation at La Marcha.
Jesse Souza, Six Seven, Seattle, Washington
Executive Chef Jesse Souza says, “Spring in New England was always a time to shake off the long, dark winter and ready for the precious summer months. My mother was and is partial to vegetables that are vibrant, bright, and bursting with the flavors of spring and early summer. She grew up spending summers in the garden, dousing sun-warmed tomatoes with fresh coarse salt. This flavor profile and garden-to-table ethic continue in Six Seven’s Heirloom Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella with Arugula Pesto and Sea Salt.” Make a reservation at Six Seven.
Jennifer Russo, The Market by Jennifer’s, Phoenix, Arizona
Chef Jennifer Russo shares, “Our spring lamb dish with potatoes and peas is an homage to my mother Gwen in so many ways. She has always had a garden and stressed the importance of cooking seasonally to me in my childhood. She’s also a health nut and would approve of my whipped cauliflower as an alternative to potatoes. And, of course, she’s very Irish and lamb is something she’s made for me since I was a kid.” Make a reservation at The Market By Jennifer’s.
Erik Lowe, Spaghetti Bros., San Francisco, California
With a name like Spaghetti Bros, you might assume spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu, and you’d be right. Sort of. Chef Erik Lowe makes several pasta dishes including Radiatori with Smoky Pork Sugo and Fermented Chili Oil and a scrumptious Spaghetti with Local Uni Butter, but his savory meatballs are of the Swedish variety. They are based on his grandmother’s recipe and served with plenty of lingonberry jam and crunchy bits of fried shallots. Make a reservation at Spaghetti Bros..
William DeMarco, Crush at MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada
DeMarco, the property’s corporate executive chef, recounts, “I have a lot of happy memories from spending time in the kitchen and learning how to cook from my Italian mother and grandmother. As any true Italian knows, Sundays are meant for pasta, and gnocchi has always been one of my favorites.” DeMarco’s classic Italian Ricotta Gnocchi at CRUSH does have some American influence; it’s served atop a pea puree and topped with braised short rib. Make a reservation at Crush at MGM Grand.
Todd Kelly, Orchids at Palm Court, Cincinnati, Ohio
Chef Todd Kelly says that growing up, his mom would make a slow cooked lamb on Mother’s Day. She prepared the dish with home-canned vegetables from the garden. Today, he recreates it for guests at the restaurant on Mother’s Day using many of the flavors his mom did. He rubs the leg of lamb with a paste of garlic, rosemary, and parsley, and then sears it and slow cooks it. The sauce is a simple red wine and lamb stock reduction finished with Dijon mustard. Preserved carrots, spring onions, Brussels sprouts, hedgehog mushrooms, and, if available, foraged morel mushrooms round out this spring offering. Make a reservation at Orchids at Palm Court.
Rupesh Shetty, Inde Fusion, Scottsdale, Arizona
Fusion cooking allows restaurateur Shetty to combine flavors from his childhood with American influences. He says, “The shrimp and grits dish reminds me of growing up in Mumbai and experiencing my mother’s homemade shrimp curry and all of her incredible cooking. In keeping with our theme of the restaurant, we took a typically Western dish and infused it with a dash of Eastern flavor — so local comfort food meeting masala spice is like a hug from my mom.” Make a reservation at Inde Fusion.
Adam Steudle, Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen, San Francisco, California
He didn’t inherit his cooking skills from his mother, but chef Steudle was always a fan of her meatloaf, which he requested for birthdays and special occasions. His version, made with organic bison and red onions, is served with a barbecue glaze, smashed potatoes and a rich and creamy red wine gravy is terrifically juicy and flavorful. The meatloaf is part of a menu that highlights comfort food with creative twists, such as Foie Gras Biscuits and Gravy, Fried Rabbit and Waffles, and a satisfying Wheat Berry Salad with arugula, dried cranberries, and herbed chevre. Make a reservation at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen.
Matthew Piekarski, HEXX Kitchen + Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
“When I was a kid, my mom would make pancakes on the weekends — and I would count down the days,” says executive chef Matthew Piekarski. “The carrot cake pancakes at HEXX were inspired by that childhood craving for pancakes, and basically what I see as the ultimate pancakes for any age.” The specialty is made with spiced batter and shredded carrots and then topped with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans. Make a reservation at HEXX Kitchen + Bar.
Meg Bickford, Café Adelaide, New Orleans, Louisiana
Grillades and grits are a classic Louisiana breakfast. Chef Meg Bickford at Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar in New Orleans, inspired by the dish her Cajun mom made, offers Chef Meg’s Breakfast for Dinner. The dish is definitely a chef’’s upgraded version, composed of crispy veal grillades with cane-cured Creole tomatoes over black truffle stone-ground grits with glace de viande and a slow-cooked hen’s egg. The egg is prepared using a sous vide technique for maximum creaminess. While her mom made a heavier roux-based gravy for the dish, the chef’s interpretation features a lighter veal sauce with sherry. Make a reservation at Café Adelaide.
Roger Waysok, South Water Kitchen, Chicago, Illinois
Chef Waysok serves fresh spins on Midwestern classics, but his favorite classic has its roots in Texas. Waysok’s mother always served him German Chocolate Cake on his birthday. The chef loves the nostalgia of the cake and adapted the recipe into a cupcake version that he serves topped with caramel and toasted pecans and with a generous a scoop of coconut ice cream. Make a reservation at South Water Kitchen.
Ken Irvine, Bleu Bohème, San Diego, California
Executive chef and owner Irvine reveals, “My mom’s an amazing chef. I grew up in Montreal, where I learned to make gnocchi from her with a French preparation – it is very light. I model that same preparation and pretty much always keep a gnocchi dish on the menu. My gnocchi was like what mac ‘n’ cheese is for other kids; it was my comfort food. Right now, we have the Gnocchi a la Parisienne — sautéed Parmesan dumplings served with patty pan squash, smoked duck bacon, and white wine sauce.” Make a reservation at Bleu Bohème.
Franco DeFuria, Bistro 57, Las Vegas, Nevada
Executive chef DeFuria, who was born and raised in Tuscany, learned how to make panzanella salad from his mother, who he believes is still the best chef he has ever known. The secret to the salad, he says, is using ciabatta that is two or three days old so the dish has the right texture, along with heirloom tomatoes that are perfectly ripened. Other ingredients include fresh basil, roasted red and yellow bell peppers, and kalamata olives. Also, he notes, “In Tuscany, no anchovies — instead, we like capers for saltiness in the dressing.” Make a reservation at Bistro 57.
What restaurant makes your favorite version of your mom’s specialty? Share your memories here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, don’t forget to make a reservation to celebrate the mom in your life on Mother’s Day!
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Jim Decker (Crush); Chloe List (Spaghetti Bros.); Phi Tran (La Marcha).