Ford Fry, Gerry Klaskala, and more share lessons learned from their mothers

14 chefs on their kitchen inspiration
Sweet Auburn Barbecue's Howard Hsu and his mom, Betty Hsu
Sweet Auburn Barbecue’s Howard Hsu and his mom, Betty Hsu

Culinary school and fellowships can take you far, but many chefs attribute at least a portion of their kitchen skills to their mothers. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we asked 14 chefs to explain what lessons they learned from their mothers.

Justin Anthony, 10 Degrees South and Yebo

“My mom is actually the executive chef at 10 Degrees South.  It was her cooking, love of wine, and hospitality that inspired me to open the restaurant and get into the business.”

Fred Castellucci III, Cooks & Soldiers, Sugo, Double Zero Napoletana, Iberian Pig

“What I learned from watching my mother manage restaurants growing up has had a profound influence on my leadership style. She has integrity and follows through on what she says she’s going to do. If I’m able to do half of that, I’d consider myself a success.”

Ford Fry, the Optimist, No. 246, King + Duke, St. Cecilia, JCT Kitchen, the El Felix, Superica

“My mother is the one who encouraged me to start cooking. Funny story: I came home from culinary school and, as she was making meat sauce for spaghetti, asked ‘Why do you use Crisco to cook the onions and garlic?’ She said, ‘Well, the recipe said to use Crisco.’ ‘Where did you get the recipe?’ I asked. She said, ‘Hmm … the back of a Crisco can.’”

Todd Ginsberg, the General Muir, Fred’s Meat & Bread, Yalla

“I don’t know if my mother exactly influenced my cooking since I decided pretty early on to study French cooking and techniques, but she was the driving force behind the family dinner table. She cooked in a selfless fashion, not to be applauded but to make sure that we were together and being nourished and nurtured for most of my life.”

EJ Hodgkinson, King + Duke

“My mother influenced my cooking through the lens of the family table. She taught me to really look, touch, taste, and feel the food. The ladies of my family directed the men in the kitchen, all the way down to doing the dishes.”

Howard Hsu, Sweet Auburn Barbecue

“Growing up, my mother was always cooking. At home, at the family restaurant business—it was endless. At the restaurant, she taught me the value of consistency and pride in cooking commercially for people. At home, she showed us recipes and meals that were part of her Malaysian-Chinese heritage.”

Andrew Isabella, No. 246

“My menu is a reflection of items I grew up on, dishes that were inspired by my mom’s cooking. Coming from a very big, Italian family of five boys, my mom always cooked in large quantities, served family-style. I find this is the best way to dine, because you can taste a variety of dishes, while enjoying each other’s fellowship.”

Eli Kirshtein, the Luminary

“My mom really helped influence my cooking with making sure to focus on quality products. She always paid close attention to having a garden, as well as buying organic and local. That is now a mantra that we hold close and dear at the restaurant.”

Gerry Klaskala, Aria and Atlas

“My mom, Anne, influenced my cooking by giving me an appreciation for what went into a well-cooked meal—starting with well-chosen ingredients. A trip to the Broadway Market was essential in planning with all its stalls of specialized products: the beef butcher, pork butcher, and sausage makers, the dairy, and the pickle stand.”

Kevin Rathbun, Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak, KR SteakBar, and Krog Bar

“My mother knew what people wanted, and she taught us to make people happy with food. Food was a passion of hers, and it wore off on us.”

David Sweeney, formerly of Dynamic Dish

“Losing my mother to cancer resulted in my choosing to learn about the power of healing foods. I do believe that food can heal. I feel my mother’s energy and use this as my support and guidance when I seek out ingredients, do prep work, and create food. It’s kind of like having a spiritual sous chef with you at all times.”

Luca Varuni, Varuni Napoli

“My Mamma taught me how to love and respect the simple ingredients of our land. Most of the recipes we serve at Varuni-Napoli are recipes Mamma taught me—food that I love and I have eaten all my life. After all, the first ingredient for every chef should be love.”

Tyler Williams, formerly of Woodfire Grill

“My mother always cooked a lot of different styles of food: Mexican, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Chinese, etc., mixed with a Midwestern casserole-y thing. I guess I show a lot of that diversity and pair it with seasonal ingredients, instead of casseroles.”

Ian Winslade, Paces & Vine

“We grew up in the countryside of England, and I can vividly remember all of the smells of the produce that Mum brought from the local vegetable stand. Understanding really seasonal, fresh produce at a young age has made me so passionate about the flavor of food as an adult.”