Mom Knows Best
Our chefs and managers reflect on the best cooking advice they received from their Moms and the tastiest meal she made for them growing up.
Chef Ryan Lister and his strong, inspiring mums
Whether you grew up on herb-rubbed pot roasts with a healthy helping of carrots and potatoes, spicy curries on fragrant long-grain rice or scooped up with handmade roti, or Kraft Dinner with hot dogs and ketchup, no one’s cooking could quite compare to Mom’s. For many of us, the way we think about and prepare food in our adult lives are rooted in … well, our roots: our mother’s (or grandmother’s or stepmom’s or aunt’s) culinary creations. Be it elaborate or simple, Mom always put the comfort in comfort food.
To celebrate Mother’s Day, we asked our chefs and managers about the best cooking advice their moms (or mother figures) have ever given them, and the yummiest dish she made for her kiddos growing up. We hope these stories bring back precious memories of your own favourite lady making magic in the kitchen, and inspire you to cook up a delicious, hearty meal just like Mom used to make.
FOUR MUMS AND A FEAST
My mum, stepmum, nan and grandma are all great cooks. All four of them would always advise to have fun when cooking and not to take life too seriously. In the kitchen, they never rush when they prepare a meal — good things come to those who wait. My siblings and I would often ask, “How long until tea time?” This would be swiftly answered with “When it’s ready.”
Everything I ate as a child inspires me daily at work and at home. I don’t necessarily try to recreate their food, but rather, I like to play with dishes in my memory so that when I’m focusing in the kitchen, there is always an element of family there with me.
My stepmum had the hardest task of all as I was growing up — she was not cooking for a child but for a young aspiring chef. She always knocks it out of the park, though. Her chunky beef chili with tiger bread would warm anyone’s tummy. Meanwhile, my grandma is the queen of casseroles and stews. Her beef stew braised in beef broth with carrots, swede and proper suet dumplings is to die for. And Me Nan’s Sunday Roast would be my final meal! Prime rib of beef with her crispy roasties, parsnips and gravy — pure magic every time. It may not be glamorous but I’d put my nan’s roast up against anyone else’s.
On Sunday nights, when I was a kid, we’d often have Me Mum’s Baked Rice Pudding. Round-grain rice baked in the oven with vanilla, cream and sugar until creamy and golden brown on top. Spooned out, piping hot, into a bowl with some Great British cream, and I’d devour a whole baking dish myself.
All four of these amazing, strong women inspire me every day, at home and at work. I wish England wasn’t a seven-hour flight away so I could see them more often. Happy Mother’s Day!
KEEP IT FRESH
The best cooking advice I have ever received from my mom is to have love and passion for the food you make, no matter how simple the ingredients are, and it will show in the end result. And always try to use fresh and local ingredients over frozen, if you are able to do so.
One of my most favourite dishes my mom made as I was growing up in Jamaica was our national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, which we’d have for weekend breakfast. It is a perfect breakfast dish when accompanied with fried dumplings. It is most popular among our native island people and well loved in our family especially on Sunday mornings, when we’d all catch up and share our week’s activities.
—Omar McLeod, Chef de Cuisine at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill, Bayview Village
A young Chef Omar McLeod with his mom
PUDDING ON A SHOW
My mother and grandmother were terrific cooks in their own right. Good food was always a part of the conversation in some way, and it’s no wonder I eventually became a chef — it was only a matter of time.
I have fond memories of learning how to truss a chicken. We would always save and dry the wishbone so that I could pull it apart with my sister, and the winner would be up for some good luck. Making Yorkshire pudding with Grannie for Sunday night roast was another tradition.
I remember on Saturdays, my mum and I would always go to the St. Lawrence market and scarf back the peameal bacon on Kaiser bun sandwiches — anyone who knew anything was going for those!
And for some reason, Mum was into making something called chocolate cornflake pudding, which sounds awful but in reality was amazing. We forced her to make it several years ago and it brought back a ton of memories.
Some of my favourite memories are of my mum’s birthday. For several years, my dad had live lobsters flown in from Nova Scotia. He had some connection there who’d put them on a plane for him. The parties were outrageous — loads of people and tons of lobster to be cooked and enjoyed. I actually remember eating six whole lobsters on one occasion — what a total pig!
—Chris Barrett, Chef de Cuisine at The Carlu
Chef Chris enjoying some family time with his mom
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
My mom and I started playing and experimenting in the kitchen as soon as I could hold a spoon. When I was young, the best experiments were when my Mom would prepare all the base ingredients of a cake (flour, eggs, milk, etc.), and she would write this foundation of a recipe onto an old-school recipe card. My sisters and I would then each be allowed to add anything we wanted to make an original cake! BUT, you would have to write down how much of each ingredient was added to the recipe card — those were the rules. We would bake them in the oven, and then came the tasting! Some of my cakes were so chocolatey that they were almost inedible… Almost!
My mom and I still experiment in the kitchen. Sometimes individually, followed by a call to share a success or epic failure, and sometimes we try out a recipe together. The recipes are more sophisticated, but the fun of creating and experimenting with different flavour combinations is more enjoyable than ever, and they still end up on a recipe card when it’s a winner!
—Jessica Espina, Assistant General Manager at Leña Restaurante
Baby Jessica and her mom
FLAVOUR OF LOVE
Growing up, I spent a lot of my time in the kitchen with my mom. I was definitely a mama’s boy and was obsessed with bold flavours. I remember being five or six years old — standing on a stool beside my mom, Mala, as she was making an omelette for our lunch — and when she turned away, I decided to flip it with my bare hands! Didn’t turn out so well, and every time I go back home to Mauritius she reminds me of it.
The best advice she ever gave me was to always taste as you go because it’s easier to add seasoning than to remove it once it’s in. She also taught me to clean up as you’re cooking.
And the most important ingredients to have on hand in your kitchen are the people you love and, of course, really good curry powder!
—Kevin Ramasawmy, Executive Chef at Bar George
Chef Kevin and his mom, Mala, against a beautiful island backdrop
ALL THAT AND DIM SUM
The best cooking advice my mom ever shared with me is to always clean as you go. The first time I cooked for her I made a HUGE mess in the kitchen (she reminds me of this occasion often!). Another important lesson is to cook for the people you serve, not yourself. In essence, you should cater to your guests, customers or whoever is eating your food’s palate, not your own. I like things very rich, umami and salt heavy but my parents don’t. Whenever I cook for them, I make sure to ease up on the salt.
We’ve shared a lot of special moments in the kitchen together, but there are a few definitely stand out. I have fond memories of folding dumplings together and then making my dad or brother guess who folded which ones. (For the most part it was very obvious which ones were mine!). My mom has incredible folding skills, especially when it comes to wontons and pot stickers…mine still pale in comparison!
Even today, whenever my mom visits R&D, she brings baked goods for the staff. We love her skor bars and almond lace rolls. They are essentially an almond tuile rolled into a tube when it’s still warm and malleable—very labour intensive! That’s love.
—Eric Chong, Chef/Partner, R&D
All smiles with Chef Eric and his mom
Looking for the best way to celebrate Mom this Mother’s Day? Treat her to a special meal at one of our Toronto restaurants.