Who is your foodie mentor?

Joined May 6, 2001
Who has inspired you? Why do you love food so much? Did you have parents that influenced your gourmet tastes, or did you come into the realm of edible nirvana later in life? I started early on, my mother sent me to stay with my grandparents (farmers) for a couple of weeks each summer. It was durring this time that I learned to cultivate fruits and vegeatbles, knead bread, and use fresh herbs in cooking. If it weren't for this "learning vacation" as a child, I don't know if I'd be a foodie now.
Joined Aug 29, 2000
For me, it was my mom and her mother. The kitchen was just about the only place my mom and I really got along. From my grandmother I learned bread-making and some traditional Jewish foods. From my mom I learned to have eclectic, omnivorous taste- to try everything. When I was a kid in the '50s and '60s, we were eating Greek, Chinese, Italian, Spanish.... of course, American and Jewish (my heritage). A the time there was very, very little ethnic food in our smallish Illinois city, and lots of mac and cheese, jello salads, really plain food based on processed ingredients. Mom grew basil, dill and oregano, as well as eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and summer squash . She had a lot of cookbooks, too. IN college I was in an international dorm where people cooked their own Sunday evening meals. The aromas and flavors of those Sunday nights were exotic and memorable. Those experiences, and the summer I watched Graham Kerr and Julia Child on TV, made me the culinary enthusiast I am today!
Joined Mar 13, 2001
My grandmother, definitely. Wonderful cook and pastry chef, she was very inspiring. She and I watched Julia Child too...


...and she grew herbs in the house, in the middle of winter!

[ June 03, 2001: Message edited by: Kimmie ]
Joined Apr 24, 2001
My Father. I don't think he conscientiously meant to, though, because he doesn't seem to want me to work in a kitchen.

When I was 6 years old, I used to beg my father to let me play hooky from school and let me go to work with him. He worked at a typical suburban Chinese restaurant in Scarborough, NY. At Grand Central Station, he'd feed me a Mounds bar which made me puke on the train ride to work. At the restaurant, I spent all morning shelling shrimp, ate something for lunch, napped, and then pull the little strings off the snow peas in the afternoon. I'd wash rice for the evening service, sat in the corner while my father banged out the orders during service, tried to help with breaking down then we'd go home. The owner/manager of the restaurant would hand me a twenty which I forked right over to my dad.

At home, on his one day off, my dad would pick us home from school. I always liked this day because he always fixed a simple but really good snack. It was best in the fall and winter when he'd steam/boil blue crabs, baby taro, chestnuts, sheets of Ho Fun. For the taro and ho fun, my dad would set out tiny dishes of roasted salt, sugar, soy sauce, and oyster sauce for us to dip into. In this way, he taught me that food in it's simplest form was truly a gift to be savored. I especially liked to play hooky on my dad's day off. With my little hand in his, we'd walk all over Chinatown. My favortie place was the bookstore. I'd pick up a cookbook with pretty pictures and asked my dad to read to me. The best part was that he would, too. Then we'd head to a coffee shop where my father and I would have our little afternoon tea. He even taught me tea etiquette. Imagine a little girl sipping her tea like a lady in a dinky coffee shop filled with old men smoking.

My dad was great. He knew I was always in the kitchen at home. My mother would constantly complain that I was splashing water everywhere, that I'd burn down the building beacuse I was always tipping the wok so that I could see what was going on in it. My dad put an end to that right away. He built me a stool so that I could reach the sink and wouldn't have to tiptoe at the stove. Mom didn't think that helped her at all.

At some point, my father decided to teach me me things. My first serious assignment was learning how to poach fish. I must have been about 12 years old. It became my responsibility to pick out the freshest fish at the fish market and cook it for the evening meal. You have to understand that this fish was very important to my family because fish is an integral part of the family diet. In spite of this, my father never yelled at me when I made mistakes. He'd give very constructive critcism and encouraged me to do better next week. I think I got it consistently right after the 5th or 6th time.

I haven't realized just how large a role my father played in shaping my life until just now when I started typing out this post. There are so many more stories. But I think this is quite long enough. Besides, I'm getting a little teary-eyed. This year, for Father's Day, I think we'll try to remember the other stories. Thanks, Svadhistana, for starting this thread.
Joined May 11, 2001
You made me teary-eyed monpetitchoux... very eloquent and moving description.

My foodie mentor is/was primarily my mother. She was always an adventurous and energetic cook and baker. She'd try out all sorts of recipes. My dad and I were the tasters; my brothers were always too skeptical and liked their boring old burgers too much. They sure missed out on some terrific food. Even when my mom got the recipe wrong, it usually still turned out tasting quite good. Now that I live far from home, she usually makes me salivate by telling me over the phone what she cooked for dinner.
Joined Feb 21, 2001
I guess for me it's two people- my mother and the first chef I ever worked for, a guy named Bill Lalor. Last heard from in New York where I think he worked for Restaurant Associates. Anyone ever heard of him?
My mother is a wonderful cook and I used to look forward so much to some of the things she made. She served us a much more varied cuisine than my kids get, but they aren't all that adventurous eaters. We had a neighbor who always had a big vegetable garden and it was a rite of spring every year, the first Swiss chard out of Stuart's garden.
Joined Mar 12, 2001
For me, it was my mother and my aunt. I spent summer with my aunt and grandfather and she was a typical small town midwest cook. Little of this and that, patient and kind. Helped me start baking bread when I was 7. My mother, was always baking, either for church bake sales or my school teachers or our neighbors. She taught me to make angelfood cake from scratch when I was 9. With no formal training, she went on to work for Nash Finch food brokers and set up the in store bakery programs that they offered. She started in her 50's and oversaw 161 stores in 11 states. Although she says that I bake better than she does, I have always admired her stamina and work ethic. When she retired after 11 years of weekly travel, it took 4 people to replace her.......and she is still baking for the neighborhood at 81. She makes killer chocolate spritz camel cookies, a childhood favorite. Here's to all the moms who inspire us by just being there with everyday cooking and baking-whether good or bad. Good to emulate, bad to surpass!
Joined Jul 31, 2000

How do you know when I am out of Kleenex.
As always,Thanks for sharing!

You touch many people.
Joined Nov 19, 1999
Monpetitchoux & Papa, What beautiful stories you've told. And they're so well written! Thank you both for sharing them.
Joined Oct 5, 2001
Dear Svadhisthana:

What a wonderful topic!

For me it was my great aunt Ypatia. She was the Chef at the family owned restaurant that was named after her. It was a lovely place on the coast of Kavouri, near Athens, and it was a regular getaway for the Greek Royal family.

I was fascinated with Ypatia's life story when I was growing up. She had become kind of a symbol for me long before I got interested in her cooking.

Ypatia was married at the age of sixteen to an cavalry officer who was very abusive to her. One day, her husband hit Ypatia in public, and another young cavalry officer, who was secretly in love with her but he had never expressed his feelings to Ypatia, called her husband to a dual to reinstate Ypatia's honor. Their swords crossed early in the morning the next day and Ypatia's husband died. The yound officer who had defended her honor, asked Ypatia to marry him. Their love story continued strong until their death. Ypatia died at the age of 86 and her husband died three days later of his sorrow.

Listening to these stories as a kid, I had already idealized my great aunt. When I started working at her restaurant at the age of thirteen, I learned a lot from her about cooking and about life in general.
Joined Nov 19, 1999
I believe my interest in cooking was the inspiration I received from my Italian father. He was always cooking when he wasn't working. The house always smelled so wonderful with his various pastas and sauces and stews. In the worst of circumstances, my world smelled of love and effort and pride. While the food was cooking he would have my brothers and sisters and me, (there are six of us), sit on the floor by his organ and play musical backgrounds to the many stories he made up while the food was cooking. I got into cooking a couple of years before he died. We had such a good time as I tried to equal or 'best' him :) Papa's story telling reminds me so much of home. You could title your book, 'Papa's Hearth', Papa :) Oh, and we always had a fireplace. Who doesn't love a fireplace? Such memories. I have to laugh about the way my dad made up his 'Garbage Stew' from the week's leftovers. We kids named it that because we hated vegetables :)
Joined Jan 26, 2001
I don't know where it came from. I've loved to cook since I was very young. After I started making pies, my Mom would sigh and say, "Looks like you got your Grandma's genes!" To her, cooking ability is inherited and somehow it skipped her.

I guess my family was always about food, so the love of food came before the ability to make it. :D

Right now, my mentors are all of you who patiently answer my questions, the people who have written wonderful cooking books, and the chef I work for who always takes time to teach me something new. I hope I always have mentors! We can always learn from each other, right?

I think curiosity is the best mentor. That one has always led me to learn the most!

Joined Jun 11, 2001
I've always attributed my interest and inspiration to a combination of adolescence (most guys and parents of teenage boys know exactly what I'm talking about....) and a working mom - I came home from school starving starting at about 11 years old and quickly tired of turning $.99 frozen pizzas into $10 masterpieces by piling on everything I could find in the fridge. Moved on to baking and making omelets, pasta, etc. and have been branching out since then. Out of my parents and three sisters I'm the only food nut, so this one must not be heredity! :)
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