Mother’s day - She has always been my inspiration
Published 28 March 2019

As Mother’s Day approaches, Suzannah Betts meets four chefs whose successful careers in the kitchen owe a great deal to the influence and encouragement of their mums

Simona Di Dio

Simona runs the family kitchen, Bottega Caruso, in Margate, Kent, with her partner Harry Ryder. Their food is inspired by southern Italy and Simona’s mother, Maria. ‘I grew up in a small village in Italy and used to watch my mother and grandmother cooking, preserving and making fresh pasta. ‘My mother cried her eyes out when I went to university in Rome – how would I survive without being able to cook? I used to phone her to ask how to make dishes and I kept a journal of everything she told me. ‘Cooking was a chore for her – she’d had to start when she was seven to help the family – so when I went into catering she didn’t understand it. But now she comes over from Italy every year and helps me in the kitchen. ‘My mum never gives herself credit for what she taught me – but I learnt respect for food and who makes it, and the importance of eating as a family. When I go home to Italy now all the neighbours know the details of what we are doing – she is so proud.’ Memory recipe ‘Sun-dried bell peppers stuffed with sourdough, parsley, mint, basil, garlic and olive oil – very aromatic and fresh.’ My mother’s best cooking tip ‘Never leave the kitchen when you are cooking: you need to stand over the stove to stir and taste.’

Nirmal Save

The executive chef at Gunpowder in London bases his recipes on home-style Indian cooking, influenced by his mother, Sulanjana. ‘The basic law of Indian food is that it comes from your home. From when I was little I was with my mum all the time when she was cooking. Food was my hobby and passion. ‘I come from a small fishing village on the west coast of India – there was no gas, so we would cook on charcoal or wood, and the food flavours were insane! ‘My mother is a wonderful cook. She has always been my inspiration, my mentor, my teacher, and I am now doing what she did in the village but in restaurants in London. She taught me that patience is the most important quality for success. ‘What you learn in life is from your parents, what you learn in your home is how you get moulded for life.’ Memory dish ‘Wild rabbit pilau. My mum made it in a big, thick pot. It was excellent.’ My mother’s best cooking tip ‘Never overpower the dish by using more spices, there should always be a balance.’

Richard Corrigan

The chef-owner of Corrigan’s Mayfair and Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill in London learnt all about bread making from his mother, Kate. ‘I was brought up on a farm in County Meath. My mother was a good cook, but she didn’t have a hundred recipes – it was dishes like a young rabbit sautéed on the bone in a cast-iron pot with some country butter. ‘When I was a kid sitting in the corner watching her, the smell of the bread said to me “my mum is home”. It’s why I make bread in my restaurants every day. ‘My mum died quite young, but she had this saying: “We’re all just passing through. Make time to enjoy yourselves.”’ Memory recipe ‘Colcannon – potato and kale with salted butter on top.’ My mother’s best cooking tip ‘She loved big cast-iron pans, she said food tasted better off them. And I agree.’

Allegra McEvedy

When the co-founder of healthy fast food chain Leon bought London wine bar Albertine, she was reconnecting with her past and her mum, Sarah. ‘My mother was quite glamorous: she was in advertising and then had a spell at MI5 before she had the family. Her kitchen was her sanctuary. She loved making pastry and the sound of rings clacking on the rolling pin instantly makes me think of her. The first time I made pastry with my daughter it was a total throwback moment. ‘In the 70s Mum owned and ran a wine bar called Albertine – I recall going there after school and sitting on the high stool in the galley kitchen as she finished up for the day. Two years ago I had the chance to buy Albertine – it looks much the same, but the menus are very different. I like to think Mum would be happy I bought the wine bar – and that I have my own two gorgeous girls.’

Originally published in Waitrose & Partners weekend - pick up your free copy in your local Waitrose & Partners store every Thursday.

Published March 2019