The story of budding chefs being inducted into the world of food by their mom (or grandmother) is not an uncommon one, yet whenever we hear it told by chefs whose restaurants we’ve come to love, it all suddenly sounds new and compelling. We thought we’d ask some chefs their version of that story—that is, by answering the question: What was the role your mother played in your love for cooking?
Jam Melchor, YesPlate
“My mom gave me my roots and wings. She was always the one who pushed me to try new things, and she always did so while providing me with a safe place I can call home. Though she worked—and still works—full time and didn’t cook every day, whenever there was an occasion for celebration, she would put together these extraordinary dishes like her signature tropical chicken and classic carbonara. She prepares everything on her own and they all turn out exquisite. This became my motivation whenever I cook.”
Happy Ongpauco-Tiu, Happy Concept Group
“My grandmother’s kitchen was my playground. I remember having my own set of cooking pots and tools in her kitchen. Every Sunday, she would cook for the whole family and I’d be tailing her, pretending to cook as well. When I got older, I would assist her in the kitchen. There, she shared with me all her cooking secrets and techniques, which I lovingly cherish.”
Gene Gonzalez, Cafe Ysabel
“My mom owned a bakeshop. When I was younger, before I went to school, we would deliver cakes to cafeterias and then after school I would pass the back area [of the bakeshop] where they would do all the cakes for the next day. The aromatic mix of chocolate cake, ensaymadas, brazo de mercedes, and flan cakes were always what greeted and made an imprint on me. I remember successfully baking a cake even without being taught—maybe it’s because of all those years I would ask questions from the staff as I passed that kitchen every single day. My mom’s legacy lives on as I serve our baked favorites that she inherited from my grandma’s ancestors at my cafe.”
Tina Legarda, Bamba Bistro
“Meal time is always a serious thing in our home. I guess you can say we’re the typical family that still feels the need to talk about food while we’re already eating. We blame my mom for this. From the time I reached the age when I could finally eat “real” food up until today, I was lucky enough to witness how my mom always made sure that everybody leaves her table happy (and busog). A lot of the flavors I have come to know and work with in my restaurant are inspired by plates she cooked for us growing up. And whenever I come up with new stuff, I always finalize it in my head with a question: “Would my mom like this?”
“Mom played a huge part of my culinary journey. She was the one who honed my skills in the kitchen. I remember as a kid I would always watch her bake, and I would be her assistant. There are times when I would be left alone at home, and I would whip up something from the fridge or whatever is left of our ulam last night, and turn it into my breakfast. Both my parents are married not just to each other but to the kitchen as well. Mama was also the one who pushed me to pursue culinary arts. Fast forward to few years ago, we had a show called “Chef vs. Mom”—kind of ironic how the “master” and the “student” had a showdown/cooking show that even won an Asian TV award for best lifestyle program. Mama is the best. I’m so lucky to have her.”
Him Uy de Baron, Cocina Peruvia
“My mom was a great cook. She learned from her grandmother, a Bulaceña. I remember growing up she would always experiment and have something new for everyone to try. She tried her hand at a food business making frozen burgers and Christmas hams. It’s there I got exposed to food. I’d wake up to the smell of burning sugar from ham being glazed in our backyard. I’d help and get paid for the day and ever since, all the jobs I’ve taken were food-related. She was also a gourmand: She would take me to fine dining restaurants even at young age, which got me hooked and so I’d also save money to eat out. Also, instead of enrolling me in sports activities, she enrolled me in cooking classes, and eventually encouraged me to take HRIM and even further to study in Le Cordon Bleu.”
Peggy Chan, Grassroots Pantry
“My mother is the number one reason why I had ever started to cook, and ultimately fell in love with cooking. My mom never had the chance to finish her secondary school studies in the ’70s, and having lost her mother at a young age, she was responsible for taking care of and cooking for her younger siblings growing up while helping out at my grandfather’s BBQ meats shop.
She met my father and became the hostess with the mostess quickly known to put together elaborate 12+ course meals of steamed giant garoupas, abalones, and double boiled bird’s nest soups for my dad’s business engagements. She took every course there was imaginable at the Towngas Cooking School and when I became old enough, she started enrolling me into weekend and afterschool classes where I would learn to make doughnuts and apple strudels, baked casseroles and Chinese hotdog buns. My mother never pushed me to become a professional chef, but I knew if ever there was an occupation she could’ve perfected, it would be in culinary. I believe she vicariously lives through me because I have chosen the path she would’ve taken in the ’80s if not for her children and her family.
Every time she tries something new in the kitchen, she inspires me. The popcorn chicken was a dish created when she first used the hedgehog mushroom as a sweet and sour ‘pork’ dish at home. I used to eat the mushrooms on its own without the sweet and sour sauce, and it tasted incredible and reminded me of KFC popcorn chicken.”