All good chefs learned the most important things they know from one place and one place only: mom’s (or grandma’s) kitchen.
All the other training and experience are just blocks built upon the foundation.
For Mother’s Day, we asked a bunch of local chefs to tell us about their favorite childhood meal or snack prepared by the loving hands of ma.
Russell Klein, Meritage
"My mother is a great cook, and we ate really well as kids. Nightly family dinners were important and she usually cooked from scratch after a long day at work. Nothing fancy, just good, real food. She had a repertoire of several dishes she knew my sister and I liked and all of them remain go-to dishes for me at home to this day. My favorite was stuffed peppers. It was really my grandmother’s dish, but my mom knew how much I loved them and she made them for me often. Now I understand and appreciate the cultural connection that dish has to my Eastern-European Jewish heritage, but as a kid, I just knew I loved them.
We are Jewish, so my mother's peppers were stuffed with veal and beef, lightened with a bit of rice. They were served with a sweet and sour tomato sauce, which inspired the sauce on the Holishkas at [now closed] Brasserie Zentral.
Meritage is one of St. Paul’s finest restaurants, with a French Brasserie feel, a zinc bar, and an annual outdoor oyster festival.
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul
Benjamin Rients, Lyn 65
“My mom makes the most amazing lefse. How many times can I say it’s amazing? Her recipe is very traditional and reflects our Nordic roots -- I’m Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish. I find it hard to have anyone else’s lefse as I know it won’t compare to my mom’s. These days she’ll still make it for me, but only for special occasions."
Lyn65 is possibly Richfield’s hippest restaurant, with our pick for this year’s Best of the Twin Cities Best Burger.
6439 Lyndale Ave. S., Richfield
Adam Eaton, Saint Dinette
"For all of her strengths, my mother was a terrible cook. There were maybe five dishes she could whip up without disaster, and matzo brei is one of them. I requested it all the time – mostly because it’s so good, but also because I was mildly terrified of any unknown alternatives. I love you, Mom.”
Eaton’s mom’s matzo brei
4 sheets unsalted matzo (Manischewitz brand)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 T chicken fat (can be found at your local butcher shop or butcher counter; can substitute olive oil for vegetarians or if needed)
2 t kosher salt
1 t ground black pepper
1 T minced chives
Melt half the chicken fat in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. The onions should be tender with a light brown color. Remove onions and set aside. Wipe pan out with a towel and keep for later.
In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to beat eggs with salt and black pepper. In a separate bowl, soften the matzo by soaking in room temperature water for one minute, flipping the sheets over halfway through. Remove from water, shake dry, and break into ½” to 1” pieces. Add matzo pieces and onions to the beaten eggs and stir to combine.
Melt the remaining chicken fat in the sauté pan over medium heat. Once pan is hot (about 1-2 minutes), add the egg mixture and scramble using a spatula to continuously move and scrape the bottom of the pan. Cook until eggs are almost set (about 3 minutes). Transfer to a serving platter and present family-style, using the chopped fresh chives as the final garnish.
A dollop of crème fraîche and a hint of caviar is a great way to give this traditional dish a little extra flair and flavor!
Saint Dinette has a global menu, composed with a subtle St. Paul attitude. Get dilly beans and trout, but also Carolina BBQ octopus and beignets with rhubarb, all under one roof.
261 E. Fifth St., St. Paul
Will Selin, Masu Sushi & Robata
“With a Vietnamese mother and a Swedish-American father, my childhood memories of mom’s home cooking are a blending of extremes, with occasionally comic results. A favorite family story is the first year my mother attempted to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. She didn’t understand the distinction regarding stuffing, so she stuffed the turkey with eggroll stuffing versus a more traditional bread stuffing.
My grandmother ran a restaurant in Vietnam, and when my mother moved to the states she opened her own restaurant, too. A lot of my memories of mom cooking are actually being little and hanging out in the basement of the restaurant watching TV and then running upstairs to see her cooking. The dishes she made were from the same recipes her mother used in Vietnam. My favorite was the egg rolls. They were something that she always made when something special was going on like birthdays ad graduations. And, they’re just better than everyone else’s! No special occasion is right without them.”
Oanh Mai Selin still maintains an interest in her original restaurant, Pho Ca Dao on University Avenue in St. Paul.
Masu Sushi & Robata was one of the first local restaurants to give ramen a serious stage in the Twin Cities, along with both sushi and “robata,” charcoal-grilled meat, seafood, and veg. The chain is one of the best places for Japanese cooking in the metro area.
Olivier Vrambout, L’Etoile du Nord
“I was born in Belgium and grew up in a multi-generational family, which is not uncommon in my country. I was born when my parents were still pretty young, so I was mostly raised by my grandparents. Many of my food memories are linked tightly to my grandmother. We’d all walk to the market square on Fridays, and we’d get breads, cheeses, and meats for the week.
There was always a pressure cooker going on the stove, and grandma was always canning or cooking something. I can still hear the ‘chu, chu, chu’ of the pressure cooker steaming away.
She would make a kind of stewed rabbit with plums and pearl onions and other stuff she’d pull from the garden. It had a heavy roux wine sauce, and she would serve the stew with smashed potatoes, called stoemp, which is also a classic Belgian dish.
The potatoes were a combination of celery, onions, and leeks, with a little bit of carrot mashed in. She would serve the stew on the plate with the potatoes, and the sauces would mix in with them and it was all very comforting.”
Yvette Cambier’s stoemp recipe
“This is a very forgiving recipe and can be easily adapted for personal preferences, so if you want to skip the carrots and only add leeks, you certainly could. Like so many 'grandma' recipes, this is mostly focused on method.
This is how my grandmother made hers:
Peel and prepare 4 to 6 potatoes (approximately one potato per person) in a pressure cooker (you can also boil them) until tender, seasoning the water with a generous dash of salt.
In a large, heavy pot, caramelize coarsely chopped root vegetables in butter. You can vary the vegetable combination based on the season or personal preferences. Carrots, leeks and onions are good ones. You can also add in a bit of chopped bacon with your root vegetables. You want the portion of the vegetable mixture to roughly equal that of the potatoes.
Transfer cooked and drained potatoes into pot with caramelized vegetable mixture, and mash coarsely together. Add cream and butter to taste. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Serve immediately.
L’etoile du Nord is Bayport’s most Belgian little cafe. In fact, it’s probably the Twin Cities’ most Belgian cafe, serving liege waffles, stone-hearth baked meals, and the sort of cooking Vrambout’s grandmother did so well. Turn to them for ultra-seasonal changing menu creations, all year round.
320 Fifth Ave. N., Bayport
J.D. Fratzke, Bar Brigade
“There are few dishes on the planet that I associate with comfort, love and warmth more than my mom’s bean soup. For 17 years, my mother ran a child’s daycare operation out of our home in Winona. When I came home from school, the house was filled with toddlers just waking up from their afternoon naps, and if it was winter (and in Minnesota, it usually is), snow suits, boots, hats, and mittens of all sizes and colors were piled at the ready for parents picking up their children. Mom would have them organized, notes on the day at hand, clearing up business, all the while preparing dinner for me, my brother, my sister, and my dad.
When I would step through the door and hear a familiar metal-on-metal stovetop rattle punctuated by a whistle and hiss every few minutes, I knew I’d hit the jackpot: Mom was making bean soup.
Not too thick, definitely not too thin, rich and hearty, and often served with Bloedow’s Bakery hard rolls which we would tear open, spackle with butter, and drown in the soup.
I still marvel at how, for almost two decades, my mom had the energy, fortitude, and organization to give love, affection, instruction, and nourishment to dozens of children and still make me and my brother and sister feel like we were the only kids in the world. On winter nights, when the house was quiet again and we all sat down to dinner at the kitchen table, I never doubted that. Mom’s bean soup was proof.”
Carole Fratzke’s bean soup recipe
1 pound dried Navy beans, soaked overnight
1 C chopped celery
1 C diced carrots
½ C diced red onion
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
3 quarts water
3 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
1 smoked ham hock
2 T salt
1 T black pepper
This is a slow-cooking stovetop rendition, not a pressure cooker endeavor like my mom made.
Drain and rinse soaked beans.
In a large soup pot, heat oil and butter over medium heat until butter begins to foam. Add vegetables and saute until onions are translucent. Add beans and ham hock, then water.
Bring to a simmer and add bay leaf and thyme, stir often, scraping and discarding bean foam.
Keep at a medium-low simmer for about 90 minutes, stirring often, until the beans are cooked through and the broth is thick. Remove the ham hock and tear the meat away from the bone. Chop up ham hock meat and add back to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rolls or sourdough bread and lots of tempered butter.
Bar Brigade is the new St. Paul tavern that takes inspiration from the wine bars of France, though like Fratzke, it’s Minnesotan through and through. Like his mom, the chef is always cooking something comforting and marvelous.
470 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul
Jack and Joan Riebel share a laugh at the Lexington.
Jack Riebel, The Lexington
“She gets so mad when I say it, but my mom was not a good cook. But, we were adventurous. In our house you could make your first lentil dal stir-fry, but you’d have half-inch size chunks of ginger in it because you didn’t know what you were doing.
My mom was a hippie, and the caveat was that (each kid) had to cook a family meal once a week. We could do fondue, snails, whatever, but you had to figure it out.
My mom could do five things really well and one of them was this pot of corn chowder. And it’s funny, because when I called her she said, ‘Oh, honey, I don’t have a recipe.’
But I really appreciate her because we went on road trips and she took us places, and we had breakfast for dinner like French toast and bacon. I love my mom.”
Jack Riebel’s cheffed-up “Ma Riebel” corn chowder recipe
1 lb. smoked thick sliced bacon, cut in ½” pieces
¼ C canola oil
5 lb. Russet potato, peeled and cut into ½’’ chunks
2\3 C all purpose flour
2 C sweet onions, small dice
4 C sweet corn cut off the cob (frozen works, too)
2 quarts half & half
1 T fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh minced spring onions to garnish
Place potatoes into a 4-quart pot, cover with cold water and season with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender.
While potatoes are simmering, place a 12-quart soup pot on medium-high heat. Brown the bacon in the canola oil until crisp and lightly colored. Remove bacon to a paper towel and reserve. Stir flour into bacon drippings to form a roux.
Stir constantly so as to not burn or brown. Add onions to roux and continue stirring until tender and translucent. Add corn, and begin to stir in potatoes and their water, adding all of the liquid.
Increase heat, and bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce to a simmer. Add half & half, thyme, and bay leaf.
Continue to simmer until thickened to desired consistency. Season liberally with pepper, salt and hot sauce.
Place chowder into warmed bowls, top with reserved bacon and minced spring onions.
The Lexington, as if it needs any introduction, is St. Paul’s grandest grande dame restaurant. Since it reopened after an extensive remodel in February, Riebel has been very carefully reimagining the menu, so as to appease both a new generation, as well as his mom, who lives just blocks from the restaurant. So far, she’s very proud.
1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul
Mike Rakun, Mercy
“My mom loves making pancakes! She made them when we were kids, she makes them for us now that we’re adults, she makes them every weekend!
We worked on a recipe together to include lemon and ricotta, which we both love, because it adds a richness. My mom tops her cakes with whipped cream and fresh blueberries or strawberries. She always adds chocolate for the kids.”
Rakun family lemon ricotta pancakes
2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 t salt
1+1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
4 eggs yolks (reserve the whites)
1 C ricotta cheese
1+ 1/4 C whole milk
zest and juice from 2 lemons
Mix all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks, ricotta, milk, lemon juice and zest.
Combine dry and wet mix. Whip egg whites to soft peaks and fold into pancake mix.
Mercy is the new American comfort food restaurant in the old Marin space on Hennepin. Mercy is named after Rakun and his wife Abby’s youngest daughter, Mercy, and is designed to be a family-friendly place that’s still stylish, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Jack Wang, Jun
"In Shandong province, where I grew up, flour-based cuisine was very popular. I always grew up loving noodles, buns, and pancakes. The reason why I loved my mom's green onion pancakes so much was because it was very simple and delicious. Every time she makes them now, it reminds me of my childhood back in China. I was always so happy when my mom made those pancakes for me.”
Jessie Wong’s Green onion pancakes
1 C flour
1/2 C green onion
1/2 t salt
2.5 C water
A dab of white pepper
Blend all ingredients together, then pour the batter onto a pan over medium-high heat and pan fry both sides.
Jun is the new Szechuan restaurant in the North Loop that is fast becoming known for the best dim sum in Minneapolis. Jack and Jessie run the kitchen as a mother-son team, making the cooking that much more special. Check them out for dim sum on Mother’s Day. If you can possibly score a seat, you’ll be the best, most appreciated kid in town.
730 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
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