Food and family memories are often entwined, and many chefs developed their passion for cooking from their maternal figures. To celebrate Mother’s Day, we had our chefs share some thoughts on how their moms influenced their culinary careers.
“I fell in love with the kitchen when I was a kid because my mom worked really hard to support our family, so Sundays were our time to cook together. She really taught us how to love good, simple food and how to make it with love.”
-Luca Marinelli, Osteria Marzia
“My mom runs a small pharmacy business and works long hours, but she was always able to come home from a hard day and put food on the table. One dish she made, and it seems to be ubiquitous among other Vietnamese mothers, is Ca Ri Ga, which is Vietnamese Chicken Curry. My mom’s version substituted the standard potato for yams, and the gravy was more broth-like so that it could be served with Vermicelli noodles. It is my favourite version.”
-Steven Nguyen, Chôm Chôm
“One of my first memories is making hundreds of dumplings with my mom. She put a lot of cabbage in them as a way to trick us into eating more vegetables. When Ho Lee Fook opened, I put mom’s “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork” dumplings on the menu as a nod to her. When I told her over the phone, she grilled me about what cuts of meat and seasonings I used and how I prepared them. I was nervous when she first came to try them, but she said I ended up making them better than she did.”
-Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook
“My mother encouraged me to believe that I can do the impossible. She has supported my cooking career by being my biggest cheerleader, sharing ideas and offering me her honest feedback. She gave me her full support and said that if this was my passion to follow through with it and don’t look back. Having a strong, driven, multi-talented woman in my surroundings has shaped me in so many ways, and I am so grateful.”
-Jad Youssef, Maison Libanaise
“My mum always told me to do what makes you happy. Through big and small decisions in my life, from contemplating a career change from accounting to cooking, growing my hair long or not, she has taught me the importance of finding true happiness in myself. If I ever asked for her opinion she would tell me her thoughts, but it would always end with, ‘if you’re happy, then I’m happy.’ Something that has carried me through my career is when she said, ‘Then if you love to cook, you’ll cook with love. It will show.’ Above all she taught me the simplicity of unconditional love.
My favourite dish she passed down is bún bò huế. This spicy, fragrant, complex and umami noodle soup originated from mum’s ancestral roots of Hue. She grew up eating this noodle soup in her home town of Dalat where there was a large migration from Hue. Bún bò huế takes true patience and time to make as each step is vital for perfect broth. Beef and pork bones are slowly simmered with an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs. It is then served with lots of different cuts of beef and pork cuts, and each and every bowl is true labour of love.”
-Bao La, Le Garçon Saigon
“Both my grandmothers were powerful women in their respective huge joint families and had a team of daughters, daughters-in-law and helpers to cook. The grandmothers always insisted on cooking the family specials, and these recipes were verbally passed from mother to daughter and daughters-in-law for generations. The women would form teams to prepare the different meals of the day, and each team had family members that specialised in certain dishes such as rice, meats and vegetables. An extra shift was added on the weekends for late-night snacking when everyone returned home from parties, movies or other gatherings. On Sundays, it was the men’s turn and they mostly cooked one-pot meat dishes with rice and chapatis.
I spent all my summer holidays helping my grandmothers, watching and learning all of their food traditions. Both my mother, mother-in-law and wife are brilliant cooks, and my mother-in-law has written three cookbooks in Bengali. I have learned everything including organisation, seasonality, nose-to-tail cooking and all that’s in between from these amazing ladies.”
-Palash Mitra, New Punjab Club