Chef: Jamie Bissonnette
Bean and meat chili
My mom can only make three things that are edible, and chili is one of them. She makes it in a crock-pot with dried beans and a ton of Budweiser, and she cooks it for, like, two days. It smells so damn good; we’d eat it with a little pat of butter on top. Today, I always have some sort of chili incarnation on my menus.
Chef: Miles Thompson
My mom is Jewish, and we would always have brisket for Passover. The fatty side of the brisket was seared, seasoned with canola oil and salt, and braised in Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix with lima beans and potatoes. Then it was cooled and sliced; a really simple, very brown dish. But brisket fat is the most delicious thing, and braising it in onion soup makes the fat taste like onion soup—even better. When your mom spends two days making something, you can just taste that love and attention to detail—it always had to be this
cut and this
specific brand of soup mix. The results were just delicious.
Chef: Alfred Portale
I come from an Italian-American family. My mother was an excellent cook and dinner was at 5:30 every night—you had to be at the table. One thing we cooked together was ravioli stuffed with ricotta that she served with sauce from her own canned tomatoes. She made large batches and froze them for special occasions. I always helped her roll and fill them. When I went to France to work, I noticed chef Michel Guérard made black truffle ravioli [at Les Prés d'Eugénie]. If he could serve ravioli, so could I, so I’ve always had some sort of raviolo or agnolotti
dish on the menu.
Chef: Anita Lo
Steamed fish with scallions and ginger
My mom was a very good cook, and she made a lot of different styles of cuisine. [There was] Chinese—my father was from Shanghai, but he died when I was there—and then my stepfather came into the scene and he had really strong New England roots, so we had a lot of that sort of simple New England food. My mother was from Malaysia and also spent some time in Tennessee, so we had that as well. She would come home from a very long day at work—she was a doctor—and she would cook for us. [She] would put, like, six different dishes out.
She would make this steamed fish on occasion, and it was one of the first things I learned how to make – it’s one of the things that I go to all the time. If I’m ever alone and I want to make something simple for myself, I go directly to that. It's so easy. I did a special of it—probably at Maxim’s—and we served it for Mother’s Day.
Chef: Sean Brock
Chicken and dumplings
[This is] hands down the most important dish of my entire life, and the most complicated adventure I’ve ever had trying to replicate a singular dish, from any cook in the world. I still can’t make it like my mom. Because, while it seems quite simple—broth, dumplings, chicken—it’s really a perfect example of how amazing southern home cooks are at intuition and cooking by feeling.
There are all these little techniques and tips and tricks. For instance, you bring up your broth to a simmer, and right where each little bubble happens, that’s where you drop a dumpling—it boils it off the spoon, and that force molds the outside of the dumpling. This was my first cooking lesson as a kid, but it wasn’t until we were filming for Mind of a Chef
that I picked up on some of her tricks. That’s what I love about it—it’s this thing that I’ve been chasing, but I’ll never be able to master it quite like my mother. I’ll never be able to get the dumplings just right, or the broth that delicate, but I’ve accepted that, and it’s okay.
Chef: Harold Dieterle
Blue crab with spaghetti
I love blue crabs—really all types of crabs, but blue crabs are the one I grew up with as a kid on Long Island. We'd catch them on the docks near my home and my mother would cook up a huge pot of crab gravy, or red sauce. The family recipe has always been onions, garlic, fennel seed, fresh red pepper, and tomatoes—at the end you drop in some basil leaves from the garden. It was a favorite of mine then, and it remains a favorite today.
Chef: Christina Tosi
Million Dollar Cake
My mother and grandmother used to make it. It’s rich, it’s dense, it’s gooey, it’s sweet. I loved to study the different layers of the gooey texture. I didn’t really think I could put gooey butter cake on the menu at Milk Bar, but I needed something that would be that same gooey-sweet-sugary mix. I’m a really big creature of crunch, but in a baked good, it’s about the gooey.
Chef: Andrew Weissman
My mom's noodle kugel for the Jewish High Holidays is awesome. Raisins, cinnamon, Corn Flakes on top for crispiness. That's a huge dish for me.
Chef: Ashley Christensen
My Memphis-born mother's fried chicken is of my most texturally vivid food memories. From start to finish, the smells, sights, and sounds of the whole process are ingrained in me. She would soak the chicken in buttermilk and then shake it in seasoned flour dredge in one of the week’s brown paper shopping bags (the original
recycling plan). Next would come the crackling of hot oil tested with drip water, and then the gentle sizzling of the battered chicken slowly rested into the oil by my mother's deft hand. Then the silencing of the oil by the removal of the crispy-skinned chicken and the promise that the dinner bell was soon to ring (if the smell of browning chicken skin hadn't already given that away). As my father was a hobbyist bee keeper, wild-flower honey was always the condiment of choice. This near-weekly childhood experience made such an impression on me that a year and change ago, I opened Beasley's Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh.