There are many lessons we’re taught at our mother’s apron strings under the guise of learning how to cook. As toddlers, we eagerly await a big lick from a chocolate batter-covered spoon while mom pretends to enlist our help with baking, slipping in some seemingly mundane basic survival skills such as, “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Don’t talk with your mouth full” and, “Remember to take an umbrella if it looks like rain.”
As we grow older, mom hopefully lets us graduate to the role of family sous chef, entrusting us with a paring knife and the chopping of vegetables. The topics of conversation become more meaningful, often delving into our relationships and dreams for the future. Some of us never leave the kitchen, choosing to remain there for our professional lives, and the teachings we received from our mothers often play an essential role in how we ply our trade.
As homage to their own mothers, Cincinnati’s culinary community shared with me their memories of how this most important person touched their lives and helped shape the person they are today.
Jean-Robert de Cavel, Chef/Owner at Jean-Robert’s Table: “While growing up in France we were off school on Thursdays. My mom would make pastries all day for the weekend and my siblings and I would have to help her. This would give us something to do to keep us busy on many rainy days. My mom cooked for our family of seven, lunch and dinner almost every day. She taught us not to be wasteful with food and how you can always cook a delicious dish with basic ingredients or leftovers.”
Matthew Beaudin, Executive Chef at The Palace at The Cincinnatian: “My mother taught me the passion and the love behind cooking. No matter what was on the table, we knew she did it with her heart, and this is what I try to instill in my cooks and food every day. Each plate we put out needs to have love in it, the love of the people who grew it for us.
I tell them to cook like it was for your mother every time. Put your heart in it.”
Andrew Mersmann, General Manager/Chef at Django Western Taco: “My mom taught me how to cook a pork chop, mash potatoes, steam vegetables, season a cast iron [skillet], scramble eggs, make a roux and boil an egg, to name a few. But how to persevere through the hard times has probably had the most influence on getting me where I am today.”
Matt Madison, Owner of Madisono’s Gelato: “One of the most important lessons I learned from my mother was to do to others as you would have them do to you. Treating people with respect in stressful situations regarding money, service or any other issue I deal with in my business on a daily basis helps to preserve the relationship for the long term.”
Peggy Shannon, Owner of Queen City Cookies: “I learned two life altering lessons from my mother related to baking. The first is the importance of mise en place. Like so much in life, if you aren’t prepared, things may not turn out as planned when given the opportunity. The second lesson has served me so well: fearlessness.”
Josh Campbell, Owner/Chef at World Food Bar and Mayberry: “My mother gave me my sense of humor. This is what gets me through those tough days of being a restaurant owner.”
Shalini Latour, Owner/Chocolatier at Chocolats Latour: “My mom thought me that what matters in life is to be happy and that happiness comes from yourself, not others or money.”
David Bach, Sous Chef at Metropole: “My mom taught me that the best recipes come handwritten on an index card and that cooking for people you love is a humbly profound privilege. She also taught me how to cook scrambled eggs when I was 3.”
Bawe Shinholster, Corporate Director of Quality Assurance for Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment: “My mom would always say, ‘Time is gold.’ If you can, imagine this barely-5-foot Korean woman pointing her finger saying this. To always respect other people’s time and never waste your own. Whenever I’m procrastinating, I can always hear her voice say this.”
Nicolas Wayne, Owner at A Tavola: “My mother taught me the importance of manners, common courtesy and my ‘P’s and Q’s.’ A smile, a ‘hello,’ a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ can go a long way.”
Mike Florea, Chef at Maribelle’s eat + drink: “My love for sandwiches came from my mother, Angela Marie Florea. She used to make these wheat pita sandwiches filled with ham, Swiss, chopped yellow onions, mustard and clarified butter. I seriously crave this sandwich all the time. It can be copied but can't be duplicated. Whenever I smell roasted ham, buttery onions or whole grain mustard I think of my super hero mother.”
Donna Distasi Phelps, Owner of Donna’s Gourmet Cookies: “My mom taught me how to make simple foods taste delicious, but she did not have a sweet tooth and did not bake. She said, 'If you want it, make it.' And, so, I did! Best lesson ever!”
Gary Sims, Owner of Taco Azul and Barrio Tequileria: "I have my mother to thank for my love of cooking. After her and my father divorced, she went back to work. My job was to cook for the family (mom, brother and me). I pretty much learned by trial and error until she bought me a Julia Child cookbook. After reading it, I realized I was doing everything wrong. So I studied, learned and fell in love with cooking. I think my mom saw a passion in me and nurtured it.”
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