Mom Knows Best
Our chefs and managers reflect on their moms’ best cooking advice 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!
—Ryan Lister, Chef de Cuisine at Liberty Commons at Big Rock Brewery
My mom is an excellent cook. She was cooking all the time. As far as I can remember, she didn’t give me or my other brothers any formal advice — it was more watch-and-learn. But I do remember that she was always tasting the food at every single step of the recipe — and by always, I mean always. And that simple action has stuck with me every single day, in both my professional and personal lives.
The only thing I remember her specifically saying is that “you cannot cook good food if you don’t like it.” That to me means cooking with love, and I think this applies to life as well. One of my favourite dishes that my mom cooks is pho (pronounced feu, as in pot au feu). Nothing screams love more than that dish, cooking all day in that rich, tasty, warm broth.
—Michel Nop, Chef de Cuisine at Buffo Ristorante
Chef Julie Marteleira with her mom, Joana
COOKING WITH HEART
In our family, cooking has always been very important and full of passion, so it has been more of learning by example. The most important lesson from my mom was to always put your heart into your meals. Good cooking is about the feeling it gives someone — creating a memory.
One of my favourite dishes growing up, among the endless list that I have, would be have to be Carne de Porco à Alentejana. It is a traditional Portuguese dish of pork and clams, dressed with a lot of cilantro. It’s such an amazing combination and my mother, Joana, makes it so well!
—Julie Marteleira, Executive Chef at Leña Restaurante
One of my favourite cooking memories with my mom was when she taught me how to make an Easter bunny cake by cutting two round cakes into a head, a couple of ears and a bowtie. This was when I was very young, so once I saw this, I felt like she could do anything! It was also the first time I ever realized that food can be more than just what we eat, that it can be manipulated and adjusted to change people’s emotions — i.e., make them happy.
—Bill Osborne, Chef de Cuisine at Biff’s Bistro
A young Chef Omar McLeod with his mom
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
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
Baby Jessica and her 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, General Manager at Bannock
KEEP ON JAMMIN’
Oddly enough, Chef [Bill Osborne] is using my grandmother’s tomato jam recipe, handed down to me by my mom, on our upcoming menu! It is a bit unusual because tomato jam is not very common. We used to have it on tourtière or any kind of meat pie. It is really good on anything savoury — so versatile. When I was little I was in charge of peeling the skin off the tomatoes!
—Justine Lynen, General Manager at Biff’s Bistro
Chef Kevin and his mom, Mala, against a beautiful island backdrop
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
THAT’S WELL TIDY SCRAN
Note: the following must be read in a thick Scottish accent.
“Don’t be sully! Yir daddy does the kewkin’! Sully wee bugger…”
—Elizabeth Kerr, General Manager at Leña Restaurante