Cooking for mom: Andrew Coppolino gets tips from local chefs

For their Mother's Day menus, local chefs talk about nostalgic dishes and what they'll prepare for their own moms.
Instead of going out for a meal, why not cook for mom at home? CBC K-W food columnist Andrew Coppolino gets some tips. (Credit: Getty Images)

For Waterloo chef Nick Benninger, Mother's Day means a full day of cooking.

But not in one of his restaurants in the Fat Sparrow group. Instead, the day is very much a family affair.

"It starts with breakfast for Nat. The kids and I always get up as early as we can and make her up something with poached eggs and Hollandaise," he said.

"Then for my mom, it's more of a collaboration. She loves to cook, so it's not easy to kick her out of the kitchen."

Along with New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is one of a restaurant's busiest weekends, and far more so than Father's Day. A poll conducted by Pollara-BMO, in 2013, found 38 per cent of Canadians will take mom out for a restaurant meal for Mother's Day.

That means that out of approximately 10 million mothers in Canada, there must be quite a few who will enjoy a meal prepared for them at home – and that includes chefs and restaurateurs like Benninger who point to family tradition as being more important than the just the food. 

"We draft up an elaborate menu and then the whole family heads over to her place," he said. "Short ribs, lamb and meatballs have all made their way onto the menu over the years. The season's first asparagus and some leftover Hollandaise are perennial dishes for sure. The whole family, including a crowd of grandkids, enjoys a rooftop feast at mom's downtown condo."

Add some local and in-season produce to the menu, suggests chef Nick Benninger. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

'My mom loved butter'

Of course, Mother's Day can be bittersweet for those who have lost parents. Little Louie's Burger Joint and Soupery owner Chef Steve Allen, who grew up in Nova Scotia, says that his mother passed away 10 years ago this month, and he and his siblings cook dishes in her memory and reminisce.

"Whenever one of us recreates one of her dishes, we always take a picture and send it off to the other three. My favourite was her halibut steaks. She would buy halibut, which was literally caught that morning, dredge it in milk, crushed cornflakes, pour melted butter over the whole thing and bake it golden. My mom loved butter, so we keep a stockpile on hand at all times," Allen said.

At Kitchener's Culinary Studio in Belmont Village, co-owner and chef Kirstie Herbstreit said she tries to cook something out of the ordinary for her mother and it often turns out to be all about the technique.

"I'll cook my mom something that she wouldn't cook herself. She would never sear herself a perfect steak or piece of salmon, so that's what I'm going to do," Herbstreit said.

For her part, Herbstreit's business partner at Culinary Studio, chef Jody O'Malley, said she will basically do the opposite and create her one of her mother's signature dishes but with a bit of a tweak.

"My mom is always asked to bring a traditional salad somewhere, so I'm making a good bowl of a nice composed salad for her," O'Malley said. 

Chef Jody O'Malley plans to make her mom a nice salad.

Preparing a favourite dish

Cooking for mom is nostalgic, yes, but it is a charge to the memory banks, like those remembrances set in motion by the Madeleine cookies in the Marcel Proust novel: a plate of pasta, a bowl of chowder or a classic strawberry-rhubarb pie with a perfect lattice crust can start a flood of childhood memories for adults decades later.

With those memories, there can also be a gentle sense of redemption when preparing a favourite dish, if you ask Amede Lamarche, pastry expert and co-ordinator of the culinary program at Conestoga College in Waterloo.

"One of my favourite things that my mom made when I was a kid growing up was tortellini soup," Lamarche said.

"We'd get all the family together and would have the filling. I was only allowed to place the filling onto the little squares of pasta because my fingers were too chubby to fold the tortellini small enough and refined enough. But I think I have the manual dexterity now to sort it out for her."

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.