Food & Drink

Chefs Share What They Learned from Mom

Important lessons from home

In Chicago on Monday, the James Beard Foundation awarded a new group of chefs some of the highest honors in the food world. And after stepping off the stage, of course, many of the winners called their moms. Familiar as stories of chefs learning at their mothers’ and grandmothers’ knees are, we found that winners from New Orleans, Nashville, and beyond truly did pick up some important lessons at home. With Mother’s Day coming, we asked them to elaborate.

  • Justin Devillier

    Photo: Marianna Massey

    La Petite Grocery and Balise, New Orleans, Louisiana
    Best Chef, South

    “Maryann Devillier was born and raised in Philadelphia in a Polish-Irish family. All of those things combined make for a lot of tradition. She cooked a lot: things like stuffed cabbage, pierogies, and really simple, brothy chicken soups. Cooking was a craft for her. I remember her with flour all over her hands from rolling out pierogie dough.”

  • Alon Shaya

    Photo: Marianna Massey

    Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana
    Best New Restaurant

    “We moved from Israel to Philadelphia when I was a kid. My mom worked two jobs, so she wasn’t around much during the week. On the weekends, though, we spent a lot of time cooking. That was our weekend routine: chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, these leek patties that were just awesome. It was a taste of home in a new country, and that’s when I learned that food with a bloodline and a story always tastes better. When I started working on Shaya, she was so excited to share her recipes with me. It was a chance for us to reconnect over food, because we hadn’t really been able to cook together since I’d graduated from culinary school. Forty to sixty percent of our menu comes from my mother and grandmother. It’s easy to say that my mother is proud, but I don’t think that does it justice. For a Jewish mother who loves to cook, this is a dream come true.”

  • Aaron Silverman

    Photo: Marianna Massey

    Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple and Pearls, Washington, D.C.
    Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic

    “Growing up in Jackie’s house, we always felt taken care of. At the heart of our business, in this industry, that is what we do. We take care of others. I could not have had a better example of that than seeing my mom’s actions every day. When it comes to my mom’s kitchen tips, one stands out: ‘When in doubt, dip it in chocolate.’”

  • Tandy Wilson

    Photo: Marianna Massey

    City House, Nashville, Tennessee
    Best Chef, Southeast

    “My mom, Connie Wilson, cooked dinner at our house six to seven nights a week. She made breakfast. She packed lunches for school. All that. We had a laundry room under the stairs full of put-ups. In the early years of the restaurant, I’d be calling her all the time like, ‘Hey, I just put this on the menu and I need to know how to make it.’ Sausage balls, for example. Jezebel sauce. We make her recipes with our ingredients. Mom comes in to eat and she’s like, ‘That’s not mine,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes it is.’”

  • Justin Yu

    Photo: Marianna Massey

    Oxheart, Houston, Texas
    Best Chef, Southwest

    “My mom always had a couple of jobs, but still she came home to cook for us. My aunts, who are like moms to me, had a restaurant, and they wouldn’t ever get home until after midnight. They taught me to do the best I can and keep my head down. If you’re doing something worth doing, someone will notice you.”