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In honor of Mother’s Day, chefs reflect on their mothers and maternal role models

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By Sophie Brochu
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Mother’s Day Weekend is upon us. We reached out to a handful of chefs to ask about the mothers, grandmothers, and maternal figures that inspired their cooking and helped to shape their careers. See their answers in their own words.

Chef Beverly Kim with her three children in Chicago.

Chef Beverly Kim of Chicago’s Parachute Restaurant credits her mother as her very first source of culinary inspiration.

“My mother was the first source of my culinary inspiration. She was an amazing cook and made a variety of different traditional Korean dishes which helped inform my cooking today.

My chef mentor Sarah Stegner from Prairie Grass Cafe has been my mentor for 25 years and she inspired me to get my first step into the professional kitchen and also helped me navigate the many hurdles throughout my career.

As a mother, I’ve learned how to be more empathetic and patient with myself and others which is an important skill set as a manager.”

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Executive chef Pam Liberda of Kansas City’s Waldo Thai reflects on her mother, Siriphorn:

“My mother, Siriphorn Chaiwan is the biggest influence in my life. She is the most caring, selfless, kind-hearted person. I grew up in a welfare school where she taught. Part of her responsibility was feeding the underprivileged children. Watching her work tirelessly, helping them in addition to our own family. She made sure that we all had food on the table. Her work ethic was unbelievable. She woke up early to cook the food to sell in the market for extra money to support our big family. After that, she prepped, cooked and managed all three meals for the children at school. She never let us or her students go hungry. She worked with the little budget that she had, and she made the meals happen. I think I really got that from her. I like to feed people and make sure they’re full and happy. You can feel the love in her cooking and I hope my customers can feel the love in my cooking as well. I hope I make her proud.”

You can feel the love in her cooking and I hope my customers can feel the love in my cooking as well.

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Chef Andrew Wilson of Cedarburg, Wisconsin’s Brandywine named his restaurant after the strain of heirloom tomatoes his late mother grew in the garden.

“When I was little through my young adulthood I have such fond memories of my mother spending time in her garden where she grew beautiful flowers and lots of produce we would eventually enjoy together as a family. This helped shape my love for creating and cooking with ingredients sourced locally from farmers and vendors. As a tribute to my late mother, Brandywine was named in her memory; an heirloom tomato that she always grew year after year.”

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Chef Suzette with her daughter Bibiana.

Chef Suzette Gresham of San Fransico’s Acquerello recalls the resilience of her grandmother:

“As a youngster, my Grandmother Jeanne, was my rock of Gibraltar. She came to America at the age of 16, uneducated and practically barefoot. She was fiercely independent, entrepreneurial, and strong as an ox. Her stubbornness and determination paid off as she taught herself to read, in order to become a US citizen.

Being raised with a certain level of adversity, no matter how it comes to you, either builds your character or knocks you down. Learning how to get back up is one of the most important lessons in life.

Being a Mother, certainly heightened some of my skills to a new level, which are very pertinent to developing a crew and running a kitchen. You find 10 ways to say any one thing, especially without being demeaning or condescending. Your listening skills and ability to explain and encourage is expanded. Most rewardingly, you ultimately help people to find their ‘best selves.’

My two daughters are the best things that ever happened in my life. My prize recipes! They are supportive, but tough and don’t let me slide. I am continually amazed at their perceptiveness and ability to apply themselves to different situations.

Women need other women. Just seeing someone else do what you want to do, makes the impossible seem possible.”

Women need other women. Just seeing someone else do what you want to do, makes the impossible seem possible.

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Chef P’ Boom with her mother

Chef Jeeraporn ”P’ Boom” Poksupthong is Washington, DC’s Baan Siam learned everything from her mother.

“Without a doubt, my mother is the woman who inspired me the most. She has been there for me through everything, through all the struggles. Not only is she the one who encouraged me to pursue my passion for food, but she’s also been the biggest inspiration for me in the kitchen. All of the little tricks, the little secrets that go into my recipes, I learned them all from her. She learned them from her mother. Baan Siam is a generational kitchen for us. Even now, she still spends all her free time with me, helping me run the restaurant. She shops with me, does prep, she cooks with me. At her age, she keeps pace with some of our prep cooks who are in their twenties. She has always been there for me and I could not have asked for anything more.”

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