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Mom's Cooking: I Got It From My Mama

5 SA chefs reveal the dishes their mothers taught them to make.

Russell Smith, Jessica Stafford, Supplied

Chicken, Mushroom & Leek Pie | Mom's Cooking  | House and Leisure

There's not much in the arena of food that most of us love more than our mom's cooking. And chefs are no exception to this rule. No matter whether a chef is celebrated for their intricate molecular gastronomy or a scintillating amuse-bouche, at the end of a hot shift, what most of them really crave is their mom's food.

For almost all of us, our food memories are intertwined with memories of mom, the provider of our very first nourishment in this world. And her home cooking is the muse for many a fine-dining menu. We asked five female chefs to share their mom’s signature dish, their favourite food memories of their mother's cooking, and which of her recipes they now pass off as their own.  

Mom's Cooking | House and Leisure
Juliet Randles (far right) with the rest of the team at The Commissary.

1. Juliet Randles (The Commissary

What's your mom's signature dish? 

Mac and cheese is definitely my mom’s signature dish. I know everyone says their mom’s is the best, but my mom’s is.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

I don’t think my mom and I have many memories that don’t involve food. I think my favourite memory is one in Florence, where we went all out at a trattoria and had the chef bring us whatever he wanted while we tucked into the jug of house wine on the table. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Being a working mom, she would come home late and throw together a delicious meal. When there was no real plan, it was 'pasta gemors', which involved whatever she could find in the fridge. This is something I often do nowadays. 

Mom's Cooking | House and Leisure
Mokgadi Itsweng.

2. Mokgadi Itsweng (Lotsha) 

What's your mom's signature dish? 

Lamb and veg stew with dombolo.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

Growing up, my mother did all the cooking at home. We, the kids, were always the helpers. My job was to peel the garlic and ginger, and then crush it into a paste with a pestle and mortar. I remember being nine years old, with my mom in the kitchen making a fish curry for Easter lunch, Handel's Messiah playing at full blast in the back. The cooking would last for what seemed like hours and at the end of it, my mom would dish out small tasting saucers of curry for the helpers, which we would greedily wolf down with slices of bread. I think my love for food and curry grew from there. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Her lamb stew with dombolo is still my favourite dish. She made it the 'Zulu' way with lots of black pepper, green peppers, carrots and potatoes. She would always cook the dombolo on top of the stew, with the dombolo soaking up some of the sauce; real comfort food. My mom passed on 20 years ago, and every time I miss her, I cook this dish to connect with her presence.

Mom's Cooking | House and Leisure
Jessica Spiro.

3. Jessica Spiro 

What's your mom's signature dish? 

My absolute favourite dish of hers is this tray-baked salmon with green beans, baby tomatoes, anchovies and olives. A real one-pan wonder as she chucks everything in together, and the result is this delicate marriage of punchy flavours and various textures. I always have her make it when I see her.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

Making chilli con carne and her asking either me, my brother or my father to check the seasoning because she's vegetarian. Despite this, she's obviously a highly intuitive cook as she makes a mean chilli with perfectly balanced spice and heat. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now?

Probably spaghetti bolognaise. It was the first dish she explained to me over the phone when I moved out of the house, and I used her exact recipe for years. As I've gone through culinary school and cooked (and eaten) more bolognaises, I've adapted and tweaked her recipe, but the bones are still the same and spaghetti bolognaise will forever remind me of my mother (that she also never tasted!). 

Mom's Cooking | House and Leisure
Kamini Pather.

4. Kamini Pather 

What's your mom's signature dish? 

South Indian Crab Curry is the one dish that I request every time I visit Durban. It’s an elegant combination of my grandmother’s masala made from roasted whole spices and fresh coconut. It's eaten with basmati rice and dal over a long, languid lunch, because getting the delicate crab meat out of its shell takes a little longer, but is worth every second spent around the table with the family. 

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

My mum and I would make Queen Cakes together. I would cream the sugar and butter and always make an excuse about why my thumb would need to dip into the sugary bowl. And, of course, the only way to clean said thumb now covered in granular buttercream was to lick it. Yum.

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Green bean curry. The trick with this is the way that the beans are slivered instead of being chopped into chunky pieces. Green bean curry is a sweeter curry that I love to eat with parathas. The next morning, I add a scrambled egg and eat it on toast. That's the best!

Mom's Cooking | House and Leisure
Jessica Shepherd.

5. Jessica Shepherd (The Table

What's your mom's signature dish? 

My mom's standout dish is her lemon meringue pie. It has just the right amount of lemon versus sweetness, and a mountain of meringue that is perfectly crisp on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

My mom was always baking. From when myself and my sisters were very young, our mom would supply a local coffee shop and home industry with cakes, as well as do private orders for speciality wedding and birthday cakes. The kitchen was always full of freshly baked cake layers, rusks, crumpets and THAT lemon meringue pie. She also used to make these beautifully iced heart-shaped biscuits for us to hand out in class on Valentine’s Day. It influenced me greatly as I thought one day, I'm also going to bring people happiness through delicious things. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Of course. I will often request a recipe from my mom's now decades-old recipe journal, most recently her carrot cake.

 

Try it for yourself...

These five chefs will be serving a plant-based lunch presented by Woolworths at the first ever FOOD XX Symposium on 12 February in Cape Town. Buy your ticket here to get a seat at the table.

More about FOOD XX

FOOD XX is a platform and movement dedicated to empowering and celebrating womxn in the food and drinks industry. It was created in response to a need for a safe space to have difficult conversations, share,  support, eat and celebrate womxn in the industry. FOOD XX launches in February 2019 in the form of a symposium and an awards ceremony in partnership with Eat Out.

READ MORE: 10 Female Food Businesses to Watch in 2019