These chefs may be at the top of their cooking game now, but their love of food can traced all the way back to childood. They share some of the lessons they learned in their mothers' kitchens
"Don't ask your guests how they want their beef cooked." It's not something a chef should say, but after watching my mum host dinner parties throughout the 1990s and 2000s it's a creed I've come to base my own gatherings around.
When you first start having friends over as an adult, it's natural that you want them to feel looked after, especially at a dinner party. During the Celtic Tiger years, Irish dinner parties followed the 'aperitifs, canapés and notions served for mains' format.
In my house growing up, we reached peak notions when my mum asked her guests how they'd like their steaks cooked. She came back into the kitchen with 10 different Post-its full of temperatures and sauce-on-the-side requests. The Post-it system collapsed under the pressure of our modest kitchen and I'm pretty sure everyone ended up with well-done fillet steak covered in pepper sauce. Future dinner parties saw the return of fish pie, a much more manageable and informal dish.
Every few Sundays I have some friends over for a one-pot-wonder, cans and video games. It's about as far away as you can get from writing steak temperatures on a post-it. Cooking for friends should be a relaxed affair where you don't have to over-exert yourself or your culinary muscles (although the odd flex is appreciated). I'm lucky to have learned this from my mum well before I started hosting my own parties; my guests and I are much happier for it.
There is never a day in the kitchen when I do not think of my mother, Vera. Plain and simple, without her I would not be where I am today, doing a job I love. She was a great cook. And she taught me the essentials. She never pushed me into it, but when she saw I was interested, she encouraged me and helped me and gave me every opportunity.
The basic lessons she taught me are the things I try to follow and live up to today. Many were about respect. "Respect your staff and treat them as you would a family member," was something she said a lot. She had great respect for food. Waste not, want not. She taught me always to keep the basics on hand so that you could whip up a home-cooked meal any time. She taught me to always be open to trying new things. And never to forget that it's all about your customers.
My mama wrote me notes in my first homemade cookbook. One of the things she wrote was, "Always start a dinner party with an empty dishwasher and a clean sink".
This might sound like a little thing, but it stands for much more - it's about not over-doing it, about being centred and relaxed, and enjoying the process, the cooking and the company. I often watched as she prepped for dinner parties - she is queen of prepping ahead and doing little once your guests arrive.
I think most fondly of her Chicken Marbella - with prunes, olives and capers - from the very scrumptious Silver Palate cookbook. If you haven't tried it, it's worth digging it out. It's very easy but also very tasty and the big plus is that the whole house smells delicious. It's dishes like this that fit her cooking and entertaining ethos.
When I get a new idea, the kitchen becomes a bomb-site as I fling ingredients in different directions in search of a taste and an ending; it's the total opposite of the way that she cooks. These moments are sometimes essential for me, but I can also now see the sense in the more pared-back, measured approach - the slow and steady and the clean sink!
My mother, Esther, loves food. I remember clearly the two of us going out to the garden to pick veggies and fresh fruit to bring to the kitchen and create something delicious. My mother is a kind and generous woman and her big heart could so clearly be seen when she served us up a scrumptious meal. She always encouraged me to join in the kitchen. I have such great memories of us making the most mouth-watering apple crumble after spending the afternoon picking blackberries and grabbing a few apples from the trees at the far end of the garden when we brought the dog out for a walk. Esther encouraged us to be mindful of our actions, treat people with respect and always be our best selves. She is a positive, passionate and hard-working woman and for my whole life she has always taught me to be the best version of me. I love my mum!
What did I learn from my mother? I have learned so much from her about both food and life. I'm one of six children and my mother gave up her job as a nurse to look after us. The family meal was always the focus of the day and I'm so grateful that I got to experience this element of culture. It was a time for everyone to come together to reflect and talk, and food was the cornerstone of this, part of the fabric of what we were as a family. My mother taught me that while good food is important, the family meal as an offshoot of this is just as important - or even more so.
If I think about my mother and food, I have to go back to my grandmother, who taught my mother all of her early skills. One simple example is how to make proper turkey gravy from the gizzards and the neck, another is her tip to add a teaspoon of sugar and lots of black pepper to turnip mash, something that I love to eat to this day. Nuggets such as this, domestic cooking secrets, can't always be found in a book.
Growing up, food was always fresh - roast beef, wild salmon, fresh vegetables, herbs from the garden. My mum now grows chillies in her greenhouse, and in summer there are garden tomatoes, too. Apart from what we actually ate at the table, the greatest lesson I learned from my mother was to appreciate and respect food. It's so important to pass this on to the next generation, as it's often over-looked in modern life.
I've learnt a slew of life lessons from my mother, Kay, all of which I'm eternally grateful for - though perhaps they were not always well received in the particular moment when they were given!
When it comes to our Farmgate Café, mum has always instilled a 'lead from the front' approach. There's no room for divas in a small family business and you shouldn't expect someone else to do anything you wouldn't do yourself, so she has always pushed my sister Sarah and I to just get on with it. It's always lovely to receive positive feedback from our regular customers and visitors to our café and restaurant in The English Market but Mum is always quick to point out that we are only as good as our last meal… in which case, enjoy any plaudits coming your way, but keep your eye on the ball and get back to work. She's also a big fan of cleaning as you go. This one is more like a sacrament. And of course, smile!
In Ireland, good potatoes are king, or more likely British Queens. My mother takes potatoes very seriously, debating them with the avidity of a Frenchman discussing the first crop of asparagus or the condition of a truffle. There's no disagreement on this one. Buy local, buy seasonal, and make sure there's soil on them. Agree with her, or you are going down.
Mum has always encouraged my sister Sarah and I to consider others, to realise that you never know what's going on behind closed doors, and to watch out for the person who might need extra help or time. "Never lose your humanity" is her sage advice, but it can be hard to follow sometimes, especially when patience is thin during a long or difficult day. That said, if Sarah and I manage to resemble her in any small way, we'd be very lucky.
For all the absence of a serious food culture in Ireland in the 1980s, my mother instilled in me a love of baking. Scones and cakes are the two food items I remember best. She also made shepherd's pie and lamb stew. I loved the pie and we had it with plenty of Bisto gravy. Though it wasn't all made from scratch, everything was home-cooked. With six of us to feed, my mother spent a lot of her waking day organising meals for us. Her willingness to make sure we were all fed remains with me and I still carry out this task when cooking staff meals or, at least, making sure all our staff are fed during the day. Rubbing the butter into the flour for her legendary scones was, and still remains, a pleasure. I think my hands will always remember this gesture. Of course, baking is nothing without the eating at the end. Lashings of butter melting evenly over the surface of the freshly sliced scone was as close as I got to decadence back then. Scones will always be my madeleines!
My mother is an incredibly accomplished cook. She has good 'sazon', that instinctive, mythical quality, that special touch in a cook, that produces perfectly balanced flavour and seasoning. Anyone can cook, but not everyone has good 'sazon'. It is the hallmark of culinary excellence in a Mexican kitchen. My mother has it in spades. When I asked her a few years back how she mastered it, she showed me her hand with the thumb, the index and the middle fingers tight together mimicking the action of picking a pinch of salt. She then said to me: "There are two secrets to good 'sazon': forming the perfect pinch and choosing the correct salt". That lesson has stayed with me forever and every time I take a pinch of flaky goodness from the salt cellar, I picture her gorgeous self, standing next to me in the kitchen, guiding me, showing me the way.
I grew up in Malaysia and my first memories of cooking with my mother in the kitchen are from about the age of 10. She would send me out to the garden for herbs or lime leaves or chilli for our after-school stir-fry. She might let me do some chopping or set out the ingredients for her.
She would always invoke her own mother when she cooked: "Your grandmother would do this" or "your grandmother made it this way". She was spoiled for choice with the all the different influences in my grandmother's cooking - Thai, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian. She passed these influences on to me.
I can still taste her wonderful Thai green curry - not like the creamy coconut curry we are used to here, but a dry and punchy curry with green peppercorns and green chillies. Relations would leave sweating after her Mubarak or Chinese New Year feasts - she would cook noodles, laksa, curries and fried pepper beef.
When she visits Ireland from Malaysia now, she cooks the food of home for me and my brother, Lee, who is my front-of-house manager in the restaurant kitchen.
Seasoning is very important to my mother and she always advised me to keep tasting my food and season accordingly. She warned me against overpowering my dishes with too much spice and, because of her love for Thai cooking, she reminds me about balancing flavours - sweet and spicy. She also hated waste and unnecessary greed in eating - take a little first and then you can have more after, was always her advice.
I have no doubt that I have my mother and the generations of women who came before her in my family to thank for my love and passion for food. I am always happy to have her cooking in my restaurant kitchen and bringing a bit of home to Ireland for me.
A son's love for his mother is special, borne out of the selfless act of rearing, the nurturing and, of course, the undying love that he receives. Somewhere in there, if you're lucky like I was, is the handing down of the love of food and the act of cooking. I was lucky enough to be born into a generation where every home had its own chef - your mother! I'm from a farming background and I have fond memories of the growing, rearing and cooking of the food we ate. I remember my grandmother, the matriarch, and her daughter, my mother, spending countless hours stewing, frying and baking to satisfy the hunger of farm labourers. My mother being a tart specialist, her secret weapon is the shortest, crumbliest and most delicate pastry. She taught me from an early age that the trick was to work the pastry as little as possible.