Things My Mother Taught Me

About food, flavor, cooking, success.

Over the years I’ve interviewed many chefs and restauranteurs and there’s a theme that keeps popping up – mothers, grandmothers, and mother figures being the inspiration, teacher, cheerleader, and guiding light in their culinary journeys. For Mother’s Day, I asked local culinarians to tell me the things their mothers taught them.

Here they are:

Michael, Pam, and Andrew Kelley. COURTESY PHOTO

Andrew Kelly, Owner, NY Sub  “Mom taught me to work clean, she taught me salt and pepper and she taught me that simple is beautiful if you use the right ingredients. She taught me that if I do what I love, it will only feel like work when I want it to. My mom is the owner of Pam Kelley Design, she’s the best there is. She taught me that if I do what I love, it will only feel like work when I want it to.”

Gilbert Garza, Chef/Owner, Suze “In considering the question of how my mother influenced me, it’s very simply as I consider this today and always. My mother was quite frankly Wonder Woman …..how she kept pace and organized fills me with complete awe.”

“She was a woman of strength, unwavering energy and determined never to do anything less than her absolute best in all endeavors. Now, on the subject of cooking, I remember with great anticipation dinner time with our family. Her touch with food and flavor palate was such that it is impossible for me to remember anything less than how fortunate I was to have her as my inspiration, my teacher, and mostly my loving supportive mother. Her words, her actions, and her love taught me to always bring my best and to always leave the biggest, best bite for someone else, especially our guests. I still taste her food every time I think of her …..It was love magic!!! Happy Mother’s Day Mom!!  I love you so!””

Janet’s mom Hazel Ferreira Vegas. COURTESY PHOTO

Janet Beckstein, General Manager, Shinsei “My mom coming from a very large family, loved to cook. [She] treated every person, regardless of stature, with respect and kindness. This has led me to working not only to provide a great dining experience but a great work experience. Respect for your team in the industry is a must to be successful. All must be treated the same, to feel valued for the hard work they provide.”

Franchesca Nor and her mom, Joanne Humphrey Nor. COURTESY PHOTO

Francesca Nor, Chef/Co-Owner, Dive Coastal Cuisine “My mother taught me all about good quality ingredients in my food. The one thing that really formed who I am today is the fact that she raised me on wholesome ingredients rather than processed foods. She never allowed refined sugars and as an adult I do not crave sugar in my diet. Thanks, Mom.”

Josh Sutcliffe and his mom. COURTESY PHOTO

Josh Sutcliffe, Executive Chef, Knox Bistro – “My mother was a lady who worked 12-hour shifts, with a 35-minute commute to and from work – with three kids, dinner was generally always prepared quickly. While my mother wasn’t a very skilled cook, she taught me the importance of speed, cleanliness, hard work, and being on time. She was always prompt with dinner being served at 8:30 (she would be home by 7:30) as she would have to clean and then get the kids to bed. I get my work ethic from my mother, and I would be lost without it. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there!!!”

Leslie Brenner with her mom, Joan, and brother, David. COURTESY PHOTO

Leslie Brenner, founder, Cooks Without Borders and Leslie Brenner Concepts

“Unhappily, I lost my mom six years ago. Happily, though, she lives with me every day in the kitchen – not because she taught me to cook; she didn’t exactly. What she taught me — as I watched her chopping vegetables, sweating onions, hearing the quiet sizzle, smelling the wonderful smells — was to love cooking. She loved to lose herself in the simple, delicious pleasures of the process. That delight, which she taught me by example, was one of the most precious things she ever gave me. In the picture, that’s my mom on the left. Behind me are my great-aunt and my late brother David, whom we lost tragically this year. David learned the same thing from our mom, and so did our younger brother, Johnny, who would go on to become a chef.”

AQ and her mama. COURTESY PHOTO

Anastasia Quiñones-Pittman, Executive Chef, José “My mom catered and cooked for families while growing up. She would bring home different foods after events. Sometimes we would wince and before we knew it she was shoving spoons of different foods in our faces. She would say, ‘eduqué tú paladar’ (educate your palate. I say that to my kids and cooks today and live by it in my own cooking when trying new flavor profiles.”

Jake and Jill Epstein

Jake Epstein, Executive Chef, Eataly Dallas “You can be anything you want, as long as you assert yourself, and work hard”

Michael Lane and his mother. COURTESY PHOTO

Michael Lane, Chef/Partner, OAK’D BBQ “Holidays were a big event at my house growing up. I would stand alongside my mom as we’d prepare multi-course meals, experimenting with seasonings and food combinations. There was always a cookbook on the counter … Julia Child’s was one of our favorites. A great chef learns by trial and error, and my mom and stepdad gave me that freedom in the kitchen.”

Plymouth Beach. Courtesy of Compass

My own mother taught me that food is an experience. One of my earliest food memories is of my mom leading the five of her children, me being the youngest, along Plymouth Beach where we lived before moving to Texas.  She had a supply of strawberry PopTarts and Kool-Aid with her and when she found the right spot on the beach, she laid a blanket, and we savored the processed foods we were otherwise forbidden to eat. I teach my own kids the same thing – food and mealtimes are celebrations of daily life, and of God’s bounty and blessings.   

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there.  Eat well, be well.

All photos courtesy of the subjects unless otherwise noted.

Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig has represented some of world's best known brands in her 30+ years in marketing and PR, including Montblanc, Rosewood Hotels, Highland Park Village and Taco Bell. As a former restaurant owner, she knows the business and has a deep affection for the hospitality industry. She is a Park Cities resident and a happy wife, mom of three and dogmother. Follow her @KerstenEats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *