My Mother's Kitchen
In honor of Mother's Day, we've asked luminaries of all kinds--actors, comedians, writers and, of course, chefs--to tell us what they remember best about their moms' kitchens. Many of these celebrities thrived on their mothers' cooking; others barely survived it. We've also collected six recipes for dishes that some of our favorite chefs grew up eating. We hope they inspire you to start some traditions of your own.
"My mother was a professional chef and ran our family restaurant in Lyon. From her, especially, I learned classic country French fare from stew to gratin."
WILLIAM NORWICH, editor-at-large, Vogue:
"My mother didn't really cook. But she did make Key lime pie, until the day the top of an evaporated milk container accidentally ended up in the pie and she decided cooking took too much concentration. After that we went out to Friendly's a lot and had tuna sandwiches."
LAURIE ANDERSON, musician and performance artist:
"Every time one of my teachers came over for lunch my mother would make her famous golden shrimp puff, with Cheddar cheese, mustard, white bread and hot pepper sauce."
DANNY MEYER, restaurateur:
"I remember the whole family sticking their noses into my mother's vegetable beef soup to suck out marrow from the soup bones. Then we'd toss the bones to our poodle, Ratatouille."
JOAN RIVERS, comedian:
"My mom was not a cook. Her china pattern was a skull and crossbones. Please. I mean, I cannot tell you. My sister and I always tried to be good, mainly because our mother was such a lousy cook. Whenever we were bad, our punishment was being sent to bed with dinner."
TOMMY TUNE, choreographer:
"What I remember most about my mother's kitchen are Sunday mornings coming home from church and smelling yeast. We'd get out of our church finery and 'unlax,' as we used to say, and my mother would put her Parker rolls in the oven and that kitchen would smell better than any bakery you've ever been in."
BUDDY HACKETT, comedian:
"My mother's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it."
MICHAEL LOMONACO, chef:
"I grew up doing homework in the kitchen while my mom cooked dinner. When I finished she'd give me a taste of whatever she was making--Sicilian dishes like stewed squid or seared tuna. That's how she kept an eye on me."
TRACEY ULLMAN, actress:
"[Mom] worked in a laboratory, testing food, and would bring home samples for our dinner. Sometimes she'd have to report that formula X had been found unfit for human consumption."
"My mother was of the era in the Twenties and Thirties when women had maids and did not cook for their families. My grandmother, though, was a great cook who made wonderful doughnuts and some of the best broiled chicken I ever ate."
FANNY SINGER, age 12, daughter of chef Alice Waters:
"I never had baby food when I was little. I ate everything my mom ate, except mine was pureed, and it was stuff like quail with grapes. All my friends at school know that my mother always makes me great sandwiches with lettuce from her garden and delicious bread and they try to trade their whole lunch for one bite."
CALVIN TRILLIN, writer:
"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."
ROBERT MONDAVI, vintner:
"My mother grew up in the Marche region of Italy, where recipes were always in cooks' heads and hands, not written in books. Her cooking is the standard by which I measure all food."
ERMA BOMBECK, writer:
"I come from a home where gravy is a beverage."
NORA EPHRON, writer:
"My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you."
SALLY JESSY RAPHAEL, talk-show host:
"The great advice my mother gave me was to clean up as you go along and marry a man who can cook."
FANNIE FLAGG, writer:
"At Christmas every year, my mother always made me one special dish without fail....It is a southern dish called Ambrosia, and I can still see her sitting at the kitchen table with bags full of oranges and coconuts and sugar working away to make sure every slice of orange was cut just right."
ROBERTSON DAVIES, writer:
"It is odd how all men develop the notion, as they grow older, that their mothers were wonderful cooks. I have yet to meet a man who will admit that his mother was a kitchen assassin and nearly poisoned him."
Sources: Tracey Ullman's quote is from Cosmopolitan, September 1990; Calvin Trillin's, Buddy Hackett's, Nora Ephron's and Erma Bombeck's from The Ottawa Citizen, November 20, 1991; and André Soltner's is from The Lutèce Cookbook (Knopf, 1995).