Chefs reinvent mom's favorite dishes
Mother's Day comes only once a year, but plenty of chefs pay homage daily with dishes learned by Mom's side.
Pasticceria Natalina (5406 N Clark St, 773-989-0662)
Mom’s dish Taralli al limone (lemon drop cookies).
Sicilians be warned: Eating these traditional cakelike biscuits may induce crying. At least that’s what co-owner/chef Natalie Zarzour sees at her popular Italian bakery in Andersonville. “They evoke childhood memories of the people who have passed away that used to make them,” she says. To get that authentic flavor, Zarzour uses Italian lemon-skin oil and pretty much follows the recipe she got from her mom (save for a slightly different glaze), who got it from her mom who got it from her mom who got it from, well, you know.
HB Home Bistro (3404 N Halsted St, 773-661-0299)
Mom’s dish Seafood choucroute.
Chef/owner Joncarl Lachman cites his cabbage-smelling house in Philly (part of the package when your parents are from the Netherlands) as the reason he didn’t bring home many friends after school, but now he’s given his mother’s classics a place on the menu at his successful Boystown restaurant in the form of sweet braised cabbage with mashed potatoes, smoked pork sausage and shellfish. “I’m very proud of my heritage now,” he says. “Back then I just wanted to be Italian.”
La Madia (59 W Grand Ave, 312-329-0400)
Mom’s dish Wisconsin electric butter cookies.
When chef/owner Jonathan Fox went looking for a signature cookie for his River North restaurant, he didn’t have to go far. The butter cookies his mom makes for Christmas have always been his favorite, so he figured his diners would feel the same for the pine nut and powdered sugar–topped treats. He tweaks the recipe a bit—don’t worry, Mom approves, says Fox—by garnishing them with candied lemon zest.
Mexique (1529 W Chicago Ave, 312-850-0288)
Mom’s dish Mole Teloloapan.
Remember that kid whose house was the favorite because of the food found there? In Huitzuco, Mexico, it was Carlos Gaytan’s. Now he creates that same buzz with his juicy chicken topped with his mother’s version of a dark red mole that incorporates roasted tropical fruits—think plantains, coconut, plums—along with chocolate and plenty of spices. Gaytan’s still working on perfecting the recipe, saying he might just bring Mom to Chicago to do it for him.
Shanghai Terrace (108 E Superior St, 312-573-6695)
Mom’s dish Nibo pork belly.
When chef Chi Ping Xu arrived at the restaurant in the fall of 2007, this sweet-and-salty pork belly was a no-brainer menu addition. Not only is it the first meat dish he remembers making with his mom, but it gives him the chance to turn diners on to traditional cuisine from his family’s province of Nibo. Ping sticks close to tradition for the time-consuming dish, which in addition to the braised and wok-seared belly includes duck stock, star anise, braised Chinese cabbage and fermented pickled vegetables.
Sunda (110 W Illinois St, 312-644-0500)
Mom’s dish Avocado mousse.
Chef Rodelio Aglibot’s Filipino parents are all over his menu—“I’ve worked under lots of chefs, but my parents have influenced my cooking the most,” he says—and that goes for dessert too. Aglibot’s mom taught him to think of avocados as fruits, and he’s hoping to do the same for Chicagoans by combining Mom’s avocado mousse with lychee granita and raspberry sauce.
Café des Architectes (20 E Chestnut St, 312-324-4000)
Mom’s dish Crêpes with country ham, Comté cheese and Mornay sauce.
The way chef Martial Noguier sees it, this classic daytime dish is a perfect fit for him. “I’m a French chef in a French hotel, and crêpes are a typical French dish,” he says. That and the fact that his grandmere raised him on it sealed the deal. Noguier eases up on the butter—“Hers were very good but very rich”—but there’s still plenty of gooey Comté cheese and, bien sur, love.
Riccardo Trattoria (2119 N Clark St, 773-549-0038)
Mom’s dish Veal and ricotta meatloaf.
Meatloaf might not have garnered much excitement at your house, but it was a different story for a young Riccardo Michi, whose mother is the chef/founder of Milan’s prestigious Girarrosto restaurant. “She was my master in the kitchen,” says Michi. For this “simple” dish, he sticks to Mom’s recipe—around since 1942—using an 80/20 ratio of veal to pork, combined with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and served with a creamy porcini mushroom sauce.
Hai Yen (1055 W Argyle St, 773-561-4077; 2723 N Clark St, 773-868-4888)
Mom’s dish Ga kho xa ot (chicken breast sautéed in a spicy lemongrass sauce).
When most of us think of caramel sauce, we envision dessert. But that’s not the case for chef/owner Hien Ngo, who instead thinks of the chicken dish her mom would make weekly in Vietnam. Ngo carries on the tradition here taking sliced chicken breast—her mom used chicken pieces on the bone—and cooking it in ground garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, dried red pepper and sugar.
Carnivale (702 W Fulton St, 312-850-5005)
Mom’s dish Pernil (roasted pork shoulder).
Chef Mark Mendez has worked with Douglas Rodriguez, the king of nuevo Latino cuisine, but it’s his mother’s Puerto Rican cooking that’s had the biggest influence on him. Case in point: his rum-glazed pork shoulder with rice, beans and fried plantains. In fact, Mendez says, “When my parents got married, my father flew my mom down to Puerto Rico so she could spend time with my grandmother and learn how to make many of the dishes that are now on my menu.”