Behind every good chef, there are sources of inspiration. On the surface, it may be travels to exotic places, trendy new ingredients, or a hole in the market begging to be filled with amazing flavours. Go back a little further, and you’ll find more often than not the desire to cook was sparked during formative years.
Every spark needs to be fanned to full flame, just like every budding chef needs to be nurtured. For May, we asked four Alberta chefs to go back to the beginning and tell us about the people that first inspired them to follow their passion: their mothers, and in some cases, grandmothers. From being subject to questionable dishes, to teaching basic techniques, to pouring love into everything they create, here’s to moms and maternal figures, and everything these amazing people do shape and mould the future.
Edmonton-based butcher and educator, Elyse Chatterton, was born in Lancashire in the UK, where her family owns a dairy farm. Growing up, she watched her mother and grandmother use their skills and knowledge to feed both family and guests. “My grandmother had a kitchen superpower of being able to feed any number of guests by simply cooking a pan of potatoes! To this day I have no idea how she did that.”
Being part of a farming family taught Chatterton to enjoy food in all of its stages, from growing and producing, to cooking, and of course, eating and sharing. “My family’s food motto is, ‘Never under-cater’. Farming families like to feed people and surround themselves with delicious, homemade food that they lovingly share with everyone who comes to visit.”
On the farm, Chatterton’s favourite time of day was 3 pm, which meant homemade cake and biscuits devoured with cups of tea. It’s only fitting that she shares a recipe for biscuits that has been passed down through generations. “Make these biscuits for yourself, your family and your friends,” says Chatterton. “They will be requested again and again, I promise. They are super simple but deliver on taste and buttery texture every single time.”
Find the recipe for Elyse Chatterton's Granny Makinson's Sugar Cookies here.
Alejandro Buzzalino’s career path has been a decade-long adventure that took him around the globe from Calgary to Montreal, London, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and back to Calgary, where he’s currently the Chef de Cuisine at Vendome Café.
While settled geographically, in terms of cooking, he says “I am far from finishing my learning journey.” It’s one that started when he was a child, and was encouraged by his mother, Ana. He credits her with keeping him grounded while he was making career moves, and says, “She is the big creative driving force in my life.”
Like any new chef, there were several misfires at the beginning. Ana stepped in, sharing simple recipes from the Best of Bridge series. “I think it was as much self-preservation as it was trying to teach the skills,” Buzzalino says. “She had to eat some questionable meals before I started to understand how to follow recipes.”
Coq au Vin is one dish in particular that reminds him of learning to cook with his mother. A simple, delicious, and comforting dish, Buzzalino says the most important ingredient is patience. “If you can teach yourself to enjoy the time it takes to make things correctly, you will greatly improve your cooking game.”
Find the recipe for Chef Alé Buzzalino's Coq au Vin here.
Jenny Kang, executive chef and co-owner of Calgary’s Orchard, grew up on a farm in South Korea with five siblings. There was never a shortage of chores to help with, and Kang’s favourite of those was helping her mother, Han, cook. “My mom always made me feel appreciated, and always encouraged me to get better in the kitchen,” says Kang.
From Han, she learned to cook with her heart, and to appreciate the food that came from their land. “When we were young, my mom would always make sure we treated produce from our farm with care and love. This love translated to the final product and what I would serve to my family and my guests.”
Han also taught her how to julienne vegetables, a skill put to use when preparing the traditional Korean dish, Japchae. Once a royal dish dating back to the 17th century, Japchae is something Kang’s large family would always eat on special occasions. It’s also the dish Kang honed her julienne skills on, and it holds a special place in her heart.
“When I would make Japchae for my family, I focused so hard on cutting the vegetables perfectly, and always looked forward to this dish so I could improve my skills.”
Find the recipe for Chef Jenny Kang's Japchae here.
Growing up on a farm meant Chef Jiju Paul learned the importance of using fresh ingredients from local farmers, a practice which he adheres to in his work as executive chef at Edmonton’s Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. “I try to keep my cooking style simple to allow the ingredients to have the main focus in each dish, and to respect their natural flavours,” he explains.
As a child, Chef Jiju recalls arriving home from school to find homecooked meals prepared by his mother, Annamma. “It was her way of welcoming us home and letting us know she was thinking about us.” Annamma taught her son how to limit food waste and respect the hard work that went into producing each ingredient. “I learned a lot about complementary flavours and the importance of tasting throughout the creation of a dish from my mother’s carefree cooking style,” he says.
For Chef Jiju, the kale and lentil fritter bowl represents his childhood and the way his mother loved to cook, while the colourful produce reminds him of the landscape of the family farm in Munnar, southern India. He adds, “This dish allows for easy adaptation so that you can let your creativity guide you to add ingredients that you have on hand and flavours that you enjoy.”
Find the recipe for Chef Jiju Paul's Kale and Lentil Fritter Bowl here.