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Chefs Speak: What’s Your Favorite Father-Related Food Memory?

Many classic childhood food memories tend to revolve around one’s mom.  The special soup she made you whenever you got sick.  The warm batch of cookies waiting when you tramped in from the cold after a long day of sledding and snowball fights.  But that doesn’t mean our fathers didn’t leave just as formative an imprint.  From Chef Paul Denamiel’s Baba Rhum-fueled escapades with his papa in the foothills of France to the secret recipe tomato sauce Bryce Shuman used to woo the ladies, these chefs’ lives never would have been the same without a little culinary help from dad.  Here are a few of their favorite father-related food memories!

New York, NY: Tasting Table Test Kitchen, Fridge Files, Jon BignelliJon Bignelli, executive chef at Alder in the East Village
“It’s hard to single out just one memory, because my father played the ultimate role in forming my passion for food.  He cooked all the meals for my mother and myself when I was growing up.  He had Jean-George’s very first cookbook, and would make things from it all the time.  I would ask him, “do I like escargot?”  And he would say “yes, you do, you love it,” and I’d eat it right away without complaining.  Also, for all the off-the-wall experimenting I’ve done as a chef at wd-50 and Alder, I’m a purist when it comes to cooking the dishes I remember my dad making.  If I’m going to do potato salad or devilled eggs, I need to make them exactly the way he did, or it’s just not right.”

Bryce Shuman, executive chef at Betony in Midtown
“While my mother cooked more and had a greater influence over my culinary career, my late-teenage love life would definitely not have been as successful without my father’s tomato sauce recipe.  By 18 I was living on my own.  To save money, I would invite dates over to my apartment for a dinner and a movie.  That red sauce over spaghetti with a little salad on the table and a bottle of wine was a winning combination!”

Chef-Paul-Denamiel_Little-PrincePaul Denamiel, chef and owner of the Little Prince in Soho
“Some of my fondest memories of my youth are summers spent with my dad at our home in France.  It’s located in the hills of the Pyrenees mountains, which meant once a week we had to travel over an hour away to the closest town to do all of our shopping for the week.  These excursions were all-day events, and became my father’s excuse to sample every pastry shop from morning till evening.  One particular day he had a craving for Baba au Rum, a traditional French yeast cake.  And even though it was heavily soaked in rum, my dad happily shared it with me, his ten-year-old son.  By the end of that day, we had both had a piece too many and needed to sober up.  We did so over a very, very long meal at his favorite local restaurant.  Funny, I don’t remember the hangover but I do remember us laughing and my dad saying at some point,”Let’s consider this your lesson in moderation!”

Eduard Frauneder, co-owner of Edi & The Wolf and The Third Man in the East Village
“Growing up in Vienna, my father owned a few bakeries around the city.  With his early hours, our only full day together was on Sundays.  One of our favorite recipes to make was a hearty Turkey Stew.  We’d add fresh peas, shiitake or portobello mushrooms and serve with a demi glace over Basmati rice.  The best part was getting access to the bakery kitchen and free reign over all the burners on the big gas stove.”

molly_nickersonMolly Nickerson, chef of Sorella on the Lower East Side
“My dad was a chef and would cook for me and my brother, and it’s why I’m passionate about food and cooking.  Our favorite thing that he would make was tongue.  Some people may have thought that made us weird kids, but we knew it made us that much cooler. When I put the Vitello Tonnato crostini on the menu at Sorella, it was my childhood-born love for tongue that inspired me to use veal tongue instead of veal loin.  Thanks, Dad!”

Richard Gibbs, chef at Battery Harris in Williamsburg
“My father ate whatever my mother made, so he didn’t talk about food so much!  But my grandfather, Max, was the ultimate gourmand.  He was always cooking, and he always cooked a lot of offal: tripe, cow brain, cow tongue, etc.  What influenced me the most, though, was how he only ever ate his eggs soft boiled, coddled, or poached.  To this day, I just love undercooked eggs.”

John Seymour sweetchick-1136John Seymour, co-owner of Sweet Chick and owner of Pop’s of Brooklyn in Williamsburg
“For many years, my father was a bartender on the Upper East Side.  He was really well known in the neighborhood, a friend of everyone.  There was a grill in the back of the bar, and he used to cook burgers for all the regulars.  His burgers were so good, everyone in the neighborhood craved them.  He inspired me to open Pop’s, my burger joint in Williamsburg, but he didn’t just show me how to make great burgers.  He taught me what good customer service is – treating everyone like family and making people feel at home.”

Agatha Kuluga, co-owner of Ovenly in Greenpoint
“My father fed me tripe soup and head cheese sandwiches from the time I was little.  He never actually told me what I was eating, which was smart.  He is responsible for my love of all things salty and weirdly textured… and for my insatiable appetite!”

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