Award-winning chefs share the signature dishes of their childhood, including a vanilla-orange flan and a white asparagus and ham gratin.
Food & Wine
September 13, 2012
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Marilyn Batali's Blackberry Pie
While walking in Galicia with Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Batali spotted a bush full of ripe blackberries, his "favorite fruit in life," and recalled filling the back of his parents' station wagon with buckets of blackberries when he was growing up in Seattle. After getting his mother, Marilyn, to e-mail him her recipe, Mario prepared this luscious pie.
Joanne Chang's mother used to make this sweet-and-spicy shrimp stir-fry all the time. When she was old enough to cook, Chang asked her mom for the recipe. "She hemmed and hawed until she finally gave it to me, revealing her secret ingredient: ketchup."
During Jean-Georges Vongerichten's childhood in Illkirsch-Graffenstaden, France, his mother, Jeanine Vongerichten, would buy the famed white asparagus from the nearby town Le Hoetre to make into gratins for family dinners.
Some of the country's most talented chefs look to mom for inspiration.
Christophe Emé says this is the kind of food his mother, Maryvonne Emé, used to make when he was growing up in the Loire valley. Everything came from their backyard: the beans, the shallots, the laitue (similar to Boston lettuce), the eggs. His mother even made vinegar for the dressing. Emé refines and updates the recipe by using quail eggs instead of hen eggs and substituting arugula for the lettuce. Maryvonne used peanut oil in the dressing, as is traditional in the Loire, but Emé opts for olive oil instead.
Efisio Farris, the executive chef at Arcodoro in Houston, says that his mother used only eggplants from the first pick of the season (le primizie) for this dish because of their supple texture and earthy-sweet flavor without a hint of bitterness. But if you don't have the primizie option, you should seek out firm, heavy eggplants with smooth, evenly colored skin. Check for ripeness by pressing them lightly; if this leaves an imprint, the eggplant is ready to use.
George Mendes's signature dish is a complex reinvention of a simple dish his mother used to cook. It includes poached duck breast and homemade duck confit. To make it simpler, buy the confit instead, and forgo the breast.
The French call pound cake quatre-quarts ("four-fourths") because it is made with equal parts flour, sugar, eggs and butter. Jacques Pépin's mother, aunt and cousin all have their versions. He likes to fold in candied citrus peels to make a French fruit cake; he also loves plain slices dipped in espresso.
Overhauling her mother's celery sticks with cream cheese, chef Barbara Lynch finishes this cool, silky soup—flavored with parsley and crème fraîche—by adding a luxurious touch: a generous mound of tender bay scallops, which she gets from a friend who lives on Nantucket.