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5 SA chefs on the dishes their moms taught them to cook

Is there anything better than mom's cooking?

by: | 31 Jan 2019
 spaghetti bolognese

ALSO READ: This top SA chef shares 5 of her best kitchen tips

No matter the calibre of chef, whether prized for their intricate molecular gastronomy, an award-winning dégustation or a scintillating amuse-bouche, at the end of a hot shift, what they really crave, like us all, is mom’s cooking. 

For most, our food memories are intertwined with memories of mom, the providers of our very first nourishment in this world. And her home-cooking is the muse of many a fine-dining menu. Here 5 chefs share their mom’s signature dish, their favourite food memories of her, and what they pass off as their own.  

Jessica Shepherd (The Table) 

jessica shepherd

What's your mom's signature dish? 

My mom's stand out dish is her lemon meringue pie. It has just the right amount of lemon versus sweetness, and a mountain of meringue that is perfectly crisp on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 
My mom was always baking. From when myself and my sisters were very young, our mom would supply a local coffee shop and home industry with cakes, as well as private orders for speciality wedding and birthday cakes. The kitchen was always full of freshly baked cake layers, rusks, crumpets, THAT lemon meringue pie. She also used to make these beautifully iced heart-shaped biscuits for us to hand out in class on Valentine’s Day. It influenced me greatly as I thought one day I'm also going to bring people happiness through delicious things. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Of course. I will often request a recipe from my mom's now decades-old recipe journal, most recently her carrot cake.

Juliet Randles (The Commissary

juliet randles

What's your mom's signature dish? 

Mac and cheese is definitely my mom’s signature dish. I know everyone says their mom’s is the best, my mom’s is.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

I don’t think my mom and I have many memories that don’t involve food. I think my favourite memory is one in Florence where we went all out at a trattoria and had the chef bring us whatever he wanted while we tucked into the jug of house wine on the table. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Being a working mom she would come home late and throw a delicious meal together, when there was no real plan it was “pasta gemors” which involved whatever she could find in the fridge. This is something I often do nowadays. 

Mokgadi Itsweng (Lotsha) 


What's your mom's signature dish? 

Lamb and veg stew with dombolo

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

Growing up, my mom did all the cooking at home. We, the kids were always the helpers. My job was to peel the garlic and ginger and then crush it into a paste with the pestle and mortar. I remember being 9 years old, mom in the kitchen making a fish curry for easter lunch, Handel's Messiah playing at full blast in the back. The cooking would last what seemed like hours and at the end of it, my mom would dish out small tasting saucers of curry for the helpers, which we would greedily wolf down with slices of bread. I think my love for food and curry grew from there. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Her lamb stew with dombolo is still my favourite dish. She made it the “Zulu" way with lots of black pepper, green peppers, carrots and potatoes. She would always cook the dombolo on top of the stew, with the dombolo soaking up some of the sauce; real comfort food. My mom passed on 20 years ago, and every time I miss her, I cook this dish to connect with her presence.

Jessica Spiro 

jessica spiro

What's your mom's signature dish? 

My absolute favourite dish of hers is this tray-baked salmon with green beans, baby tomatoes, anchovies and olives. A real one-pan wonder as she chucks everything in together, and the result is this delicate marriage of punchy flavours and various textures. I always have her make it when I see her.

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

Making chilli con carne and asking either me, my brother or my father to check the seasoning because she's vegetarian. Despite this, she's obviously a highly intuitive cook as she makes a mean chilli with perfectly balanced spice and heat. 

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now?

Probably spaghetti Bolognaise. It was the first dish she explained to me over the phone when I moved out of the house and I used her exact recipe for years. As I've gone through culinary school and cooked (and eaten) more bolognaises, I've adapted and tweaked her recipe, but the bones are still the same and spaghetti Bolognaise will forever remind me of my mother (that she also never tasted!). 

Kamini Pather (FÜDY)

kamini pather

What's your mom's signature dish? 

South Indian Crab Curry is the one dish that I request every time I visit Durban. It’s an elegant combination of my grandmother’s masala made from roasted whole spices and fresh coconut. It is eaten with Basmati rice and dhall over a long, languid lunch because getting the delicate crab meat out of its shell takes a little longer but is worth every second spent around the table with the family. 

What's your earliest or favourite food memory involving your mom? 

My mum and I would make Queen Cakes together. I would cream the sugar and butter and always make an excuse about why my thumb would need to dip into the sugary bowl. And, of course, the only way to clean said thumb now covered in granular buttercream was to lick it. Yum.

Is there a dish she used to make that you make now? 

Green bean curry. The trick with this is the way that the beans are slivered instead of being chopped into chunky pieces. Green bean curry is a sweeter curry that I love to eat with parathas. The next morning, I add a scrambled egg and eat it on toast. The best!

These 5 chefs will be serving a plant-based lunch at the first ever FOOD XX Symposium on 12 February in Cape Town.

ALSO READ: 10 Female-owned food businesses we're supporting this year

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