Ludo Lefebvre, Evan Kleiman and 11 More L.A Chefs Share Food Lessons Learned from Mom + Grandma
While planning that super sweet gesture for mom this Mother's Day -- remember, it's coming up on Sunday -- think back to all the valuable nuggets she taught you over the years. Chances are a lot of them have to do with food, right? That's certainly the case for many chefs, some of whom might have wound up on very different career paths if it weren't for family matriarchs. We've asked some of L.A.'s best pros behind the stoves to share the most important lessons they learned from their moms and/or grandmothers about food and cooking. So turn the page to hear what 13 local chefs (listed in no particular order) have to say about some of their earliest in-home teachings that came via the first ladies in their lives.
Kris Yenbamroong, Night + Market
My Grandma has taught me many things over the years. A lot of her lessons exist as sound bites in my head, e.g., "Always be mindful of the heat. Adjust it constantly, sometimes up, sometimes down." But the one thing that sticks out most in my mind is more of a philosophy and less a cooking lesson, and it's definitely the most obvious. She always made sure that I held "taste" above all other things: concept, technique, even tradition. None of those things matter if it doesn't taste good.
Evan Kleiman, KCRW's "Good Food"
The most important thing I learned from my mom about food was how to cook it. Not using Julia Child, or show-off cooking. Just everyday, day in and day out, simple cooking. Cleaning and preparing vegetables for salad and sides, making roasts and chops, spaghetti sauce. Every weekend we would make a couple of dishes for the week. She basically gave me kitchen literacy on which I was able to build through my interest in cookbooks and Julia Child. In the 1950s learning the basics of cooking was like learning how to spell and do times tables. You just did it.
Jose Sarinana, Xoia Vietnamese Eats
Mom taught us that there is nothing wrong with a burnt tortilla -- as long as the beans are fried just right.
Susan Sarich, SusieCakes
My grandmothers Madeline and Mildred were a huge inspiration for SusieCakes, and I used their recipes that they passed down to me as the basis for many of our homestyle desserts. The most important thing I learned from my grandmother Madeline was to always prepare a dish while considering the people you will be serving it to. She put love into everything she made, and that is something you can always taste. The most important thing I learned from my grandmother Mildred was to keep it simple! The best dishes are often those with the least ingredients, and it's important to keep in mind that a recipe doesn't need to be complicated or difficult to be great tasting. Both of their lessons remain with me every day.
Clean as you go. I always loved cooking, and she was the one who entertained a lot and always had people over. So I just enjoyed helping her and spending time with her in the kitchen. But the kitchen would be a disaster; it drove her crazy. And we would always garden as a family. She instilled in me to just grow your own.
Ricky Piña, Ricky's Fish Tacos
Grandma taught me food was a blessing, and that we shouldn't leave it or waste it. And Mom would tell us -- after thanking her for cooking a delicious meal -- you deserve it because you worked hard for it! And now when I cook I remember those phrases, and I feel I'm cooking for family.
Nyesha Arrington, Wilshire Restaurant
Perhaps the single most important thing my mom taught me about cooking is planning ahead. The day of cooking you should ideally have most of your preparation done so that you can enjoy time with family. When I would come home from school my mom usually had fresh Rice Krispie treats, or homemade ice cream sandwiches. My sister and I were always impressed with how easy she made it seem.
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Vartan Abgaryan, Cliff's Edge
The most important thing I learned from my mom about cooking is the emotion in it. She made us the same chicken soup for years. It never tasted the same. Sometimes it was just perfect. Other times it was just okay. It took me a long time to realize this, but when she was in the mood to cook -- that's when it was great. I cook with my heart because of my mother.
The most important thing I learned from my mom about food was that even if you're not wealthy, you can still make great, flavorful, fresh, quality food. With some time and care, you can still make something great and soulful. The most important thing that she taught me about cooking is to be adventurous and to challenge myself to make something new. My mom's cooking was the inspiration behind a number of items on the menu at M.B. Post: the biscuits, our couscous dish, the chorizo and lentil soup. Our strawberry short cake is inspired from my favorite birthday cake as a kid.
Ernesto Uchimura, Plan Check
The most important thing I learned about food and cooking from my mom is to really perfect a recipe and fuss over the details, this way you can create the most delicious version of the dish.
Roxana Jullapat, Cooks County
My mother is not an avid cook, but she has definitely dabbled in the world of patisserie over the years. She learned from her mother, who was an amazing baker, highly regarded among her neighbors and friends. The first thing I learned about baking from my mother -- and I remember this vividly -- was how to properly whip egg whites to full volume. A punto de niece, is how we phrase it in Spanish, and then how to carefully fold the whipped egg whites into a cake batter so you don't stir the air out of them (en forma envolvente is the terminology). Now that I think about it, it's quite remarkable how spot-on her explanation and demonstration was. I must have been eight.
Hourie Sahakian, Short Cake
My mother taught me to cook fearlessly and to always follow my instincts. My grandma taught me how to bake and stressed the importance of the quality of ingredients. My mom and grandma were my first food mentors and taught me to love everything about food.
Ludovic Lefebvre, Trois Mec
My grandmother was the most important influence on me as child and she spent what seemed like every minute in the kitchen cooking. My grandfather and I would go to the garden and bring her back lots of vegetables for the day's meals. Looking back I realize that eating fresh food was the only thing I knew as a child, thanks to my grandmother. Food was such an significant part of our life, every day was an occasion, my grandmother would put the same love behind her cooking if it was just a regular Monday, or if it was Easter or Christmas. Cooking brought us together, and enjoying the meal brought our family and friends together everyday. My grandmother's table was a place to celebrate and share life.
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