Food memories and mom memories often go hand in hand. For culinary professionals, in particular, many developed their passion for cooking while watching their mothers or the maternal figures in their lives as they prepared family meals. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked some top chefs to share their mom-inspired dishes that are edible homages to the women who helped raise them.
Baked Clams Oreganata at The Stanton Social, New York, New York
Lower East Side fave The Stanton Social is owing it all up to chef de cuisine Derrick Prince’s mom (pictured with him above) with this first course. Prince states, “My family didn’t get together very often, so Christmas was a big family event at my house when I was a kid. I had a cousin who was a fish distributor, and he would always show up Christmas Eve with bags of clams. My mother would make quarts and quarts of her famous (to my family, anyway) bread crumbs, and we would make baked clams all night. I learned how to shuck a clam at age six because of nights like that!” Here the clams are served with local Long Island little neck clams, crusty bread, and, of course, mom’s secret bread crumbs. Make a reservation at The Stanton Social.
Kevin’s Cheesecake at Beacon Tavern, Chicago, Illinois
Executive pastry chef Kevin McCormick’s classic cheesecake dessert is created with gingerbread cookie crust and reimagined for spring with fresh pineapple braised with cinnamon cloves, and is paired with mango sorbet and topped with basil. The cheesecake is a McCormick tradition as Kevin’s mother makes the dish every holiday season. He is the third generation of the family to use the recipe, though it’s a first for the family to have it served in a restaurant. Chef Kevin puts his own twist on the recipe by making a spiced version with a gingerbread crust that is artfully balanced by the tropical notes of the fruit. Make a reservation at Beacon Tavern.
Corn3 at Root & Bone Miami Beach, Miami, Florida
Top Chef alum Jeff McInnis, who is famed for his fried chicken, got some inspo for his sides from his childhood. Says chef Jeff, “One of my fondest childhood memories was of my grandmother grilling corn on her farm. We’d help her pick all the corn from her fields and I recall filling a large metal washtub on the porch with corn and water to soak the cobs. We’d light a grill and throw corn on the grill, husk and all. The corn seems to steam inside its natural husk and get plump and juicy within minutes. My grandma Bryce would fill an old coffee can with butter and set it on the grill to melt. As she pulled the steaming hot corn from the grill, she would pull back the husk and create sort of a handle to hold on to the exposed cob. She’d then plunge the corn into the hot butter, sprinkle with salt and hand it to us like it was an ice cream cone. I remember the hot butter pouring down to my elbow as I ate the corn in the hot summer sun. As I got older, this experience inspired the dish that we’d later put on the menu at Root & Bone, which is grilled corn with cornbread butter puree and popped corn. Always a crowd pleaser!” Make a reservation at Root & Bone.
Butterscotch Pie at Distilled, Lexington, Kentucky
Chef Mark Wombles of Distilled at the Gratz Park Inn serves up a recipe passed down from his mother – butterscotch pie. This specialty pie includes a delightful butterscotch filling, finished with a light meringue topping. As a child, chef Mark remembers helping his mom tend to the family’s huge garden; harvesting corn, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, herbs, potatoes, turnips, and more. But every year when fall rolls around, chef always remembers his mom’s homemade butterscotch pie – always made from scratch. “It’s awesome,” he says. “I would end up eating half a pie by myself late night from the fridge. She would always make it in the fall and around the holidays, especially for Thanksgiving. It’s really simple, but a lot of the really simple stuff, if done correctly, is so good.” Make a reservation at Distilled.
Swedish Pancakes at Beauty & Essex, New York, New York
Known for its striking interiors, Beauty & Essex also features stunners on its plates, particularly the Swedish pancakes from executive chef Sarah Nelson. “My great-grandmother came from Sweden when she was just thirteen. She was a huge part of my life growing up. And so were her Swedish pancakes! We were quite a large family and I remember her cooking these pancakes, and back then it seemed like a stack were ten feet high. She would dust them with powdered sugar and top it with a lingonberry jam.” Here, chef Sarah serves hers with vanilla mascarpone and lingonberry and strawberry jam. Make a reservation at Beauty & Essex.
Kakuni Porchetta at Hamasaku, Los Angeles, California
For chef de cuisine Mika Matsui this offering at the intimate Hamasaku in west Los Angeles is personal. A modern twist on classic Japanese dish chef Mika’s mother would make for her, this features soy-braised pork belly and eggy, roasted turnip, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and mustard. Make a reservation at Hamasaku.
Roasted Chicken for Two at Vandal, New York, New York
Executive chef Jonathan Kavourakis serves his paean to his mom at Manhattan hotspot Vandal. Kavourakis says, “Growing up, my mom cooked for us almost every night. She was a great comfort food cook, making everything from meatloaf to stuffed shells, pasta, and roasted chicken. My brother and I both loved roasted chicken and loved pouring the pan juice on top of the vegetables and starch. So, for Mother’s Day, I am going to recreate my mom’s whole roasted chicken with an herb butter, creamy polenta, fresh spring vegetables, and a delicious pan sauce.” Make a reservation at Vandal.
Heirloom Tomato + Avocado Salad at Urban Farmer, Denver, Colorado
At Urban Farmer, a modern farm-to-table steakhouse, executive chef Chris Starkus serves this salad inspired by his mother with pickled wax bean, cotija, and crispy mustard seed. Chef Chris says, “Growing up, my mom used to make tomato, cucumber, and red onion salad with Italian dressing in the summer. I loved it – as it marinated during the day and night, I would eat it sitting on the deck, wrapped in a pool towel, and then jump right back in. My mom is one hundred percent Italian and this dish has origins from her heritage.” Make a reservation at Urban Farmer.
Pasta Piselli at The White Bull, Atlanta, Georgia
The White Bull, named for an Ernest Hemingway quote, transcends literary inspiration on its menu, with executive chef and partner Pat Pascarella drawing on his childhood – and his mom’s pasta piselli. He says, “Growing up, my mom and dad both worked full -time jobs and then my father did landscaping after work to make more money. Since my mom wouldn’t get out until five or six at night, she would always make one-pot meals that tasted so good. To this day, my favorite is pasta piselli. It’s just cooked peas with some kind of pork in it, then a touch of tomato, some chicken broth, garlic, and, of course, the pasta. The best part was that she cooked the pasta in the broth so that all that starch would combine into the sauce.” At the restaurant, this dish is served with gnocchi but no tomato because, as chef Pat points out, “tomato is not currently in season.” Make a reservation at The White Bull.
Veal Brains “Meuniere” at Pubbelly Noodle Bar, Miami, Florida
At Pubbelly, Asian ingredients meet European techniques – and a touch of personal history. The veal brains “meuniere” with blue crab tartar, black butter, and sprouted childhood is on the menu for chef José Mendín’s mom. Chef José shares, “I like to make my mom happy, and I like to make dishes that are from my childhood, like the veal brains. She used to take me to this cafeteria called “El Tropical” in Puerto Rico. She used to get me the veal brains — los sesos rebozados — with tartar sauce. We would sprinkle lime juice on top and eat them with French fries. That’s why I made the dish and put it on the menu at my first restaurant — because she likes it.” Make a reservation at Pubbelly Noodle Bar.
Sunday Roast Chicken at BRABO, Alexandria, Virginia
Chef Sebastien Rondier notes, “Growing up in France, we had roast chicken on most Sundays. My mom would caramelize the chicken legs and serve them with salad and mustard dressing for dinner. A variation of this dish is a perfect fit for our French brasserie menu.” At BRABO, he makes an elevated version of the dish starring whole-roasted Amish chicken with black truffle under the skin. The French-inspired chicken is served with asparagus gratin with gruyere and béchamel sauce, duck fat-roasted potatoes, and red port reduction. For spring, he has enhanced the preparation with morels and ramps. The dish serves two people and must be ordered 24 hours in advance of dining. Make a reservation at BRABO.
Pork Belly “Bo Ssam” at Fundamental DTLA, Los Angeles, California
The pork belly bo ssam from chef Andy Lee at Fundamental DTLA features shiso, baby gems, leek, miso – and oyster kimchi, which he cribbed from his mom’s kitchen. “Conceptualizing the pork belly wasn’t difficult but I did sprinkle in my mother’s influence of adding some ginger and dash of ground coffee in the braising liquid. When I shared with owner, Woogene Lee, that growing up my mother would make this delicious oyster kimchee with pork in the summertime, he thought it would be great to have my mother’s oyster kimchee accompany the pork belly. When I was young, I found the oyster to be too slimy and the kimchee spice to be a bit too spicy for me, but as I got older I found myself craving the flavors more and more. My mother, like many generous immigrant women, enjoyed over-producing them and sharing them with her church friends and neighbors. I remember she would sell them to acquaintances and friends of friends. I always romanticized about the idea of learning how to make my mother’s kimchee. I thought as a Korean American cook, it would be awesome to have that traditional specialty under my belt,” reveals chef Andy. Make a reservation at Fundamental DTLA.