Raising a Chef

Blast from the past — Mar 12, 2019

Raising a Chef

What’s it like to raise the future leaders of the food industry? We asked the parents of accomplished chefs to share their stories.

Editor’s Note: No one knows a person better than their parents. And for as much media coverage, and for as many diners who pass through the hallowed dining rooms that each of these chefs helm, we still wondered what they were like way back when. Today, we get the inside scoop from the parents of these prominent chefs.

Enrique Olvera

Restaurants: Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico; Cosme, New York City, New York; and others

Source: Mother, Pilar Figueras*

*This interview has been translated from Spanish

Egg was the least favorite when he was a child. He loved cookies with sweetened condensed milk, or rice in any presentation you could imagine. He liked to go with his grandpa to the markets and always taste everything that was offered, but he mainly liked rice.

He wasn’t a difficult child in terms of eating, so cooking for him was always a pleasure and not a problem. More than participating, he was curious about ingredients and kept asking questions; he wanted to know all the names and liked to help in the process. He loved to be at his [paternal] grandparents’ bakery and talk with the bakers, and see the process of bread baking and cake being prepared. He also liked to eat with his grandpa at the Spanish casino.

We’ve always enjoyed family gatherings—no matter the reason or celebration—but always around the table. Good food, tamales or something more elaborate, as happens in Christmas or New Year.

When Enrique was a little child, our vacations were spent more at Cuernavaca, Acapulco, Ixtapa or Valle de Bravo. Cabo seduced him when he was older. Hel fell in love with the place. The places where his restaurants are located are always places that really captivate and seduce him.

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Bill Telepan

Restaurant: Oceana, New York City, New York

Source: Mother, Evelyn Telepan

When Bill initially told me that he wanted to go to culinary school, I have to say I was quite surprised and also didn’t think it was a good idea. While Bill is certainly creative, he didn’t show much interest in cooking when he was younger. I always enjoyed preparing meals for the family while the kids played outside, and usually had to make several calls to get them to come in and eat.

One of my specialties, Hungarian hamburgers, was Bill’s favorite dish, and usually guaranteed an easier time getting him to sit down at the table. I didn’t have an exact recipe, but the hamburgers consisted of ground pork mixed with stale rolls, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. My stuffed cabbage with kielbasa and kraut was always a big hit too. To this day, Bill’s favorite meal each year is our annual roast pork with sauerkraut and fresh kielbasa for New Year’s. I used to serve it all on kaiser rolls. The only thing I really couldn’t get him to touch was liver.

Max Sharrad

Restaurant: Shobosho, Adelaide, South Australia

Source: Mother, Nicki Sharrad

Max was a very confident child with excellent language skills and was talking fluently by the time he was eighteen months old. He was sporty, sociable, bright and always had a love of food. This was not surprising as he was surrounded by family that also loved food.

He showed very early signs of being creative in the kitchen when he tried his hand at creating art with sour cream. He had Italian grandparents and we went [to their house] for lunch every Sunday. He loved watching them make gnocchi, pasta and tiramisu, and was always willing to stir a pot or get his hands dirty mixing ingredients together.

Max had a sweet tooth growing up and his favourite dessert was tiramisu. which I still make for him now with the same recipe his Nonna used. He was easy to cook for growing up and would try anything. He loved brussel sprouts, which we always thought was odd for a child. Cooking for him now is more challenging as his knowledge of food and passion for local, sustainable and organic produce has become a priority.

When Max was in year twelve, he told us he wanted to be a chef and we bought him a Japanese knife and cookbook as a graduation present. He did pursue other avenues and went on to university where he started a couple of different degrees, but he eventually followed his passion and went back to cooking.

Our favourite food memories were and still are our family Christmas feasts where we have a great spread of festive food. Being with family and enjoying food together are still the things Max enjoys today.

Tim Love

Restaurant: Queenie’s Steakhouse, Denton, Texas

Source: Mother, Queenie

Raising seven kids as a single mother, our family menu consisted of a lot of staples like macaroni and cheese, spam, and Tim’s favorite, SOS, which was dried beef with cream gravy. During the early years, Tim showed no real interest in cooking or food, but was always a fiercely independent hard worker. His restaurant empire today is proof of that.

It wasn’t until he had to work his way through college that he discovered his skill and passion for cooking. After starting as a fine dining sous chef, the rest was history. Now he’s representing Lone Star cuisine all over the country. As for his children, Tim loves to teach them the art of cooking and the love and appreciation of good food.

Justin Walker

Restaurant: Walkers Maine, Cape Neddick, Maine

Source: Mother, Denise Walker

Early on in Justin’s life, he’d go trout and bass fishing with his dad, then come home to cook it for dinner. When his dad came home from deer hunting, he’d help him butcher the deer. Justin and his grandfather prepared the Sunday and holiday meals for the family.

Foraging came into play when he and his grandfather went walking through the woods. His least favorite food was eggs of any kind, especially hard boiled. His favorite food was charcoal-roasted potatoes on the barbecue grill in the summer, just like he is cooking them now on the hearth at Walkers Maine.

Cooking at the Walker household when growing up was a group effort. I would leave meats and vegetables for him to start preparing when he got home from school. My husband and I worked, so Justin would start the meals. This is when I knew he found his love for cooking. When I’d get home from work, I’d set the table and usually make a salad with vegetables from our garden that my husband tended. All that was instilled in his love for food then, and has carried him through to become the artist that he is for taste, textures and perfection of foods at Walkers Maine.

Adam Tortosa

Restaurant: Robin, San Francisco, California

Source: Father, Michael Tortosa

About the time that Adam was three years old, he started to ask for a Fisher-Price kitchen for a holiday present—s he would call it a “kitsshen.” When he opened the present he was so happy, all he could say was, “a kitsshen, a kitsshen.” For the next few years we were presented with sunny-side plastic eggs, plastic toast, and a weird yellow plastic butter that he would cook for us in his “kitsshen.”

In elementary school, when he was home sick, instead of watching cartoons, he would lay on the sofa and watch cooking shows on TV. The only kinds of books we remember seeing in Adam’s hands revolved around cooking and food.

On a family fishing vacation in Mexico, he not only wanted to filet the fish he caught, he asked the owner of the resort if he could go in the kitchen and help the cooks prepare the meal for all the guests. He was allowed to do this and that is when we knew we really had a chef on our hands.

Traci Des Jardins

Restaurant: Jardinière, The Commissary, Arguello and others, San Francisco, California

Source: Mother, Linda Des Jardins

Traci was three when her older brother Mike went to kindergarten. Traci was so upset; she would cry until Mike got home. In an effort to make this a little easier, I told Traci we would make chocolate chip cookies for Mike when he got home. We used the Nestle Tollhouse recipe and would make them often. By the time she was five, Traci could make the dough on her own from memory. She was too little to read the recipe, but knew all of the steps by heart. One of the tips I had given her was to fold all of the ingredients together so as not to make the cookies tough. Whenever she was baking with her cousins or her friends, she was always so adamant about folding in the ingredients.

We have a huge family. Traci has eleven cousins on her father’s side and fifteen on my side. Every year, we would bring the family together for Thanksgiving, all cooking together. The night before was the real event. Traci’s Grandfather Des Jardins was originally from Louisiana and we would make his shrimp creole recipe; we were all his little sous chefs.

My mother is Mexican and made fresh tortillas every day. By the time Traci was five she was rolling fresh tortillas with her grandmother and cooking alongside her. One of Traci’s all-time favorite dishes is my grandmother—Traci’s great grandmother’s—albondigas soup. It has been passed down through the generations and evolved over time. Traci’s restaurant Mijita (which means “little one” in Spanish, and is a nickname her grandmother gave her) in the Ferry Building serves the albondigas soup and it is always a favorite.”

Ryan Farr

Restaurant: 4505 Meats, San Francisco, California

Source: Mother, Hulyn Farr

[Ryan] really liked a lot of things, but hot dogs were his favorite. He even had his own recipe for them. My mom (Ryan’s grandma) put together a cookbook of family recipes, and at age ten Ryan submitted his hot dog recipe.

Another favorite food was watermelon and vanilla ice cream for breakfast. His grandpa would serve it to him, and I can remember having the same growing up. Ryan now does this for his kids on special occasions. It’s really carried down through the family.

He was also a big mac-n-cheese fan. When he was a teenager I went on a trip for a few weeks and left him with money for groceries for him and his dad. He returned from the store with a gigantic gallon-sized bucket of mac-n-cheese packets and a huge jar of Tang. I actually still have the bucket (it has a Kraft dinosaur on it) and keep rice and beans in it.

Growing up in Kansas City, barbecue was always a big thing. If we were having barbecue, Ryan always went for ribs. He liked everything, which made it pretty easy. He liked to hang out in the kitchen while I was cooking. He would get involved whenever I was making holiday treats and snacks.

When Ryan was in the third grade he came home with a recipe he had transcribed from a cookbook in the library with the title “Surprise” and asked if we could make it. It soon became clear that we were making donuts.

There were no restaurants in the family, but everyone in our family loves to cook and eat so the kitchen and dining room were always a really happy place. I think that really drew Ryan to the kitchen. He would sometimes come up with recipes. He would make things for the family and have us all guess what the secret ingredient was (it was almost always Tabasco).

Nick Balla

Restaurant: Duna/Smokebread, San Francisco, California

Source: Mother, Wanda Keehbauch-Murphy

Nick arrived in Ann Arbor in the late seventies at the height of the natural foods scene. He was the celebrated first grandchild of two (mostly) Eastern European families who reveled in occasions requiring feasting. From the beginning, Nick loved exploring novel tastes and smells. We used to open spice jars for his sniffing, offered green onions for gnawing when he was teething, and watchfully accepted his decided preference for lemons over sweets.

As an elementary student, Nick proudly conjured up an artichoke salad recipe for a school project. A favorite meal could be steamed artichokes, or a huge bowl of guacamole, or maybe a bowl of curry-flavored popcorn.

In the late eighties, Nick rebelled against me and his stepfather’s low-fat vegetarian experiment. He preferred cooking up big pots of ramen or pastas fortified with artichoke, smoked sausage and olives. As we always had a big garden, homemade pickles and salsas kept things spicy. Nick also enjoyed forays into Indian, Greek, Asian, and other cuisines as a teenager.

Nick’s excitement for food peaked when he spent a year during high school with his dad in Hungary (stories of pig butchering in the backyard were saved for some time after he returned). Back in southwest Michigan, Nick finished high school, but preferred working in restaurants. He was especially adept at encouraging and developing the talents of fellow food workers. Much to my delight, he decided to go to culinary school and is still having fun exploring food.

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