If you interview a chef about what got them into cooking, I would put good money on there being a maternal influence. Ask anyone, from any walk of life, who does the best roast potatoes, stew or soup and you’re likely to get the same answer. Food stands for so much more than just fuel when it comes from a mother’s kitchen. So, to mark Mother’s Day this year we thought we’d pay tribute to the mothers out there and collate some maternal memories from some foodie friends. Happy Mother’s Day.
Paul Barlow-Heal: Cotswold Baking
I always thought I was lucky as I had two mums after my parents separated. My stepmother was always baking whenever I visited my dad during the summer holidays which meant there was always a feast of baked goodies on the go. There were flapjacks, Devon cookies, bread pudding and the smell of fresh bread every few days, which always made me feel hungry. I think this is the earliest memory I have of making bread. I’d help my stepmother knead the dough and mould it ready for the loaf tin, then sneak back into the kitchen numerous times to check on it as it rose in the tin, waiting for that wonderful smell of baking bread – nothing beats it.
I grew up in a small town in Somerset and I remember when school gave us the option of opting out of school dinners, which I gladly did! This is when my mum’s legendary lunchboxes started. The look on my mates’ faces as they went for their school lunch and I had varied mixed salads with home cooked ham and boiled eggs, leftover cold chicken from the night before with a good dollop of salad cream in a Tupperware container, or perhaps cold local pork and herb sausage sandwiches with smoky ketchup, bags of midget gems or little bars of sesame snaps, which I loved. I always looked forward to my lunchbox – always so much better than the school meals. I remember the dry chocolate sponge served with mint custard – not pleasant!
While my mum wasn’t a massive home baker, she is a great cook. Meals where always fresh, home cooked and nutritious. I often helped out when I got home from school, prepping the veg and mashing potatoes.
To this day one of my favourite meals as a child was liver and onions with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy. I always got to help fry the liver after I’d coated it in flour. It’s a strange one when you consider it. I reckon if you asked most kids these days they’d opt for pizza or burgers. One thing both my parents drilled into me was the importance of eating properly. Christmas was always fun. The cake was always on the go early to make sure those fruits had time to plump up with all that booze they were soaking in. Mum always let me help make the cake, creaming the butter and the muscovado sugar with an old electric beater that I was always afraid of. It always put a rosy smile on my face licking out that bowl afterwards. I think it would be remiss to not mention my nan’s legendary raspberry and sherry trifle which she made for our Sunday visits to Lyme Regis – alcoholic was an understatement!
My dad’s mum was always cooking something up if not butchering some meat in the kitchen when we visited. She used to buy half a lamb or pig from a local farmer and cut it up in the kitchen ready for freezing. I still have her old butchers saw. The women in my family have all played a crucial role in my early cooking life and definitely planted the seed of my wanting to become a chef. They gave me the encouragement to go for it and challenge myself in my career and for that, I will always be grateful.
Joe McCarthy: The Wychwood Inn, Shipton-under-Wychwood
Throughout my life my mum has been there for me, my two brothers and my sister and she continues to inspire me every day with her strength, support and unconditional love.
Growing up, life was tough. My dad died when I was in my early teenage years and mum had to feed many hungry mouths each day. This was no easy challenge, but she always came up with the goods and her delicious stews were a firm favourite with us all.
Mum’s classic standby, which she always had ways of stretching, was her ‘Mix ‘n’ Match Mince’. Whilst we were away at school, she would gently simmer minced beef with potatoes, carrots and celery as core ingredients, adding anything other vegetables she could find in the fridge or pantry. The aroma when we got home, starving hungry, always tantalised our taste buds. As we grew older and hungrier, mum would add tins of baked beans to the stew, bulking it out and further adding to the flavour.
Even today as a qualified chef, running the kitchen at the Wychwood Inn in Shipton-under-Wychwood, I still cook my version of my favourite childhood dinner. Minced beef with baby carrots and butterbeans topped with micro celery – a definite winner on a cold evening.
Not only did mum’s cooking inspire me to become a chef but so did her attitude to pushing me forward in my career. Too young to drive, when I had my first job at Lords of the Manor, Mum would come to my rescue. She spent many hours in hotel carparks at 1am waiting for me to finish my shift and run me home, only to get up early the following morning to take me to work by 6am. Never did she complain but always gave me a sleepy smile as I said goodbye and went into work. Mum also encouraged me always to have a go whatever I wanted to do. After all, she would say, “what have you got to lose?”
As I was preparing to marry my beloved fiancée last October, with much to get ready in the months leading up to our wedding, we received the devastating news that mum had been diagnosed with cancer. Having had the majority of her lung removed followed by extremely hard chemotherapy, she still stands before me, smiling away. Now she is looking forward to the birth of a grandchild in May this year.
My mum is the strongest person I know. She’s been a true inspiration to me throughout my life, and will continue to be as our family grows. Happy Mother’s Day.
Mum’s Mince Stew with Baby Carrots, Fondant Potato & Crispy Kale (serves 4-6)
1 onion diced
3 sticks of celery, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
Pinch of thyme leaves
Tbsp tomato puree
250ml red wine
250ml beef stock
200g butter beans, washed
Handful of fresh chopped parsley
1. Start by frying the onions and garlic together in a deep pan with a splash of oil until soft.
2. Add the minced beef and fry until brown.
3. Add the tomato paste, wine and thyme leaves, bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 3 hours.
4. Take off the heat and add the remaining ingredients (butter beans, parsley & celery) and stir in.
400g chipping potatoes
200g salted butter
2 sprigs thyme
4 garlic cloves crushed
Splash white wine vinegar
500ml chicken stock
1. Turn the potatoes with a paring knife into a barrel shape (or peel into roughly the same shape)
2. Pan fry the potatoes in the butter on a high heat with the garlic, thyme and vinegar. The butter should be foaming.
3. Continue to cook the potatoes until golden brown all round, then top the pan up with the chicken stock
4. Reduce this down until the potatoes are cooked through – a knife should slide into them easily.
Garlic & thyme baby carrots
Bunch of baby carrots
2 cloves of garlic crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
Splash of red wine vinegar
1. Wash the baby carrots
2. Pan fry all the ingredients together until the carrots are al dente, roughly 5 mins
2 large handfuls of kale, stalks pulled from the leaves
1. Put the kale in the deep fat fryer, or a deep frying pan for 30 secs at 180c
2. The kale will spit a lot so be careful, remove from the oil, leave to dry and season with Maldon sea salt
To serve: Ladle the hot stew in a bowl, and top with baby carrots, fondant potatoes and crispy kale.