Jun Tanaka posing

Mum’s the Word: How do chefs spoil their Mums on Mother’s Day?

‘No one makes it better,’ said everyone, ever, about their mum’s cooking. Whether it be my ol’ ma’s more-than-generously-buttercreamed carrot cake, or a high-flying chef’s recipe for dal makhani, passed down from mother to daughter over generations and generations.

Whether true or not, no one dares argue. A dish cooked by a mother is a personal, maternal, thing. And much more than the sum of its parts. What we might not have considered is how a parent and his or her cooking has brought some of our most celebrated chefs, and some of their most adored dishes, into being.

We checked in with three of the UK’s most successful chefs for a closer look at the mother-chef relationship. And, as this’ll be the second Mother’s Day under Covid restrictions, how they’ll throw a special occasion with their mums when they’re next able.

Vivek Singh, The Cinnamon Club

vivek singh cooking

Photo Credit: The Cinnamon Club

What started in 2001 with the Cinnamon Club – an outlet for Vivek Singh’s innovative takes on Indian cuisine – has branched into four other London restaurants, and his first outside the capital. But even with the Cinnamon Club in its twentieth year, Vivek’s mum’s cooking still plays on his mind. In honour of mother’s day this year, the chef came up with a four-course order-in meal kit (including a certain pumpkin chutney) inspired by what his mum would feed him during his former years in Bengal.

From an early age, Vivek remembers how his mum would cook ‘every single meal every single day’, often for entertaining guests or impromptu visitors. “The fact is, she cooked a lot, and very well, and I loved the atmosphere,” he says. “She has had more influence on my tastes – if not on my becoming a chef – than I give her credit for!”

Some of her most memorable concoctions included chutneys – tomato, when in season, and pumpkin when they were not. “I loved both, and with them could eat a dozen or more Poories [fluffy deep fried bread].” It would take around a decade into his cheffing career, however, before Vivek found a way to share his mum’s cooking with the rest of the world.

“I thought, “why would anyone want to have homely cooking in fine restaurants?”. And then, one time, I paired her pumpkin chutney with grouse. Since then, I often end up putting dishes or components from her on the menu. It’s been a slippery slope.’

How will you treat your mum on mother’s day, or next time you see her?

“I really enjoy cooking for her. I feel like I go into a trance, a meditative state when I’m cooking for her…. it’s been over a year since I’ve seen her but when I do next, I’ll cook for her again and take her out shopping, which I know she loves !”

Robert Ortiz, Chakana

robert ortiz cooking

Photo Credit: Chakana

For eight years now, Robert Ortiz has been brightening up Britons’ palates with dishes from his native Peru. Having started cheffing in the Peruvian capital, he went to up his profile across the pond in London, eventually opening Lima with Vigilio Martinez in Fitzrovia. After giving London’s tastebuds an education, he decided to do the same a bit further north, opening his own place, Chakana, in Birmingham in 2019.

Robert grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother and, not unlike Vivek, was weaned on his mother’s escabeche (a tomato-based pickle). He was introduced to hospitality at a young age too – his mother, owner of a restaurant and a bakery, would encourage him to sample dishes and comprehend nuanced flavours. “When I was a child, I would watch her most of the time, and help her cook,” he says. “I’ll always remember the aroma of her kitchen.” He now tries to bring his dishes to peoples home by providing an online food ordering and collection service, similar to how his mother prepares in his native Peru.

Much like he does in his restaurants now, Robert’s mother treated ingredients with a certain respect, and a desire to bring out the best in them. But it’s the memories he has of particular foods which are the most vivid. “She would cook a range of meat dishes, such as beef adobos marinated with chillies and herbs cooked ala brasa [on charcoal], empanadas, and home made sausages. I would steal and run upstairs with them.”

How will you treat your mum on mother’s day, or next time you see her?

“She really likes ceviche. I would like to do the version we make at Chakana. But as a special treat, I’ll prepare her favourite chocolate mousse, decorated with edible flowers.”

Jun Tanaka, The Ninth

Jun Tanaka posing

Photo Credit: Paul Winch-Furness

Eating and cooking was always a big part of Jun Tanaka’s life. It was after his family moved to the UK from New York City, however, that he first delved into the world of cheffing. On the first day of his first apprenticeship – at Le Gavroche in 1990 – he turned up with his mum’s kitchen knife. He would go on to do the rounds at many of London’s more classically-inclined restaurants – eight, to be exact. The Ninth, hence the name, he’d open himself in 2015.

When Jun was young, the family meal was a major part of the day. It was through his mother’s cooking, and constantly deploying new dishes at the dinner table, that she had probably the biggest influence on him. “She helped me to appreciate different cuisines and ingredients, which is an essential part of being a chef,” says Jun. “Dinner was never boring.”

While there aren’t any of his mother’s dishes that have influenced his menus or his restaurant philosophy per se (Japanese and French fusion is not something Jun’s overly keen on), her recipe for katsu curry is something Jun could cook over and over again. “Although,” he says, “it never tastes quite as good.”

How will you treat your mum on mother’s day, or next time you see her?

“My mum loves fish, especially the more unusual parts. So, I’ll be cooking yellowtail collar – simply grilled, with the first season asparagus.”

With restaurants closed this Mother’s Day, we’re launching a ‘Mum’s The Word’ hotline with a panel of experts to answer your cooking questions. Celebrity MasterChef finalist Dev Griffin will be on the line with chefs Vivek Singh and Sally Abé to share culinary tips and help you spoil your Mum this Sunday. Click here to find out more.
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