We all have a kitchen from our past that sticks with us. Living rooms come and go, and the layout of a place fades with time. But kitchens, and the sights, smells, tastes and things that fill them, have a funny way of creating a lasting impression.
For me, that kitchen is my grandmother’s. The thing that takes me back to it? Despite tales and vague recollections of epic marinara sauces,meals that likely started my lifelong love affair with meatballs, and an almond cake that for some reason I distinctly remember as being blue, it’s chocolate pudding. My grandmother used to make it for us when we’d visit her, leaving it in the refrigerator when she went to work. By the time her gold Duster (yep, it had a plastic Jesus glued to the dashboard, too), pulled into the driveway hours later, there wouldn’t be much left. I can picture the kitchen, the afternoon light, and opening the refrigerator to see chocolate pudding sitting in sundae cups, perfect, like it’s all right in front of me.
So, with that memory in mind, I asked a few chefs, restaurateurs (am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that there’s no “n” in the spelling of that word?) and Sur La Table Resident Chefs to share what that one kitchen is for them, and the things that remind them of it. Here’s what they had to say:
“My mom used to cook in these old Le Creuset pots (pictured at the top of this post). As she got older, they became too heavy for her and she sent them to me. I continue to add to my collection, and treasure the pots that to me are classic, beautiful and full of inspiration and memories.”
–Donna Moodie, Owner, Marjorie, Seattle, WA
“One of my most treasured possessions that reminds me of my childhood kitchen is the very first cookbook I ever received that was truly my own: Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Cookbook. My parents gave it to me for Christmas when I was about 10 years old. You can tell by the stains on the pages that I made Archimedes’ meatloaf quite frequently, and that I really enjoyed making dinner for my family. I eventually moved on to other cookbooks and recipes, and eventually to a career as a chef, but that Mickey Mouse cookbook takes me back to where it all started.”
–Angie Lee, Resident Chef, Sur La Table, King of Prussia Mall, PA
“When I sit down to a hearty bowl of chicken and dumplings, I can’t help but be reminded of cold days growing up in my mother’s kitchen. The pot of braised chicken and vegetables simmering, filling the kitchen with that unforgettable aroma, the sound of the bubbling broth as the dumplings were dropped in one by one. I can’t wait to break out the old cast iron pot and make a batch of chicken and dumplings right now.”
–Brian McCracken, Co-Chef & Co-Owner, McCrackenTough Restaurants, Seattle, WA
“Growing up in an Italian family, we always made a specific tomato sauce that some people refer to as ‘the gravy.’ Each relative made it slightly differently, and they all tasted the same, but they each thought theirs was best. It is still argued about each time we are all together… I always thought it was charming and funny. When I think about that sauce, I think of my grandfather and his kitchen. He was in the meat business, so quality was always something he took pride in with our food. His kitchen was amazing and overlooked the water in Macro Island, Florida. The whole experience from the view to the smells and tastes is probably why food became my life and career. I hope heaven is in that kitchen.”
–Holly Amore, Resident Chef, Sur La Table, Naperville, IL
“When I was growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, our family’s kitchen was nice and light and looked out onto our backyard, which was filled with orange and grapefruit trees and had a big blue rectangular swimming pool. There was an old electric stove with four burners and a double oven. We’d all gather together in the kitchen and go over the day’s news. My mother would always be cooking something wonderful – fried rice, pepper steaks, chicken soup. Her chicken soup was unparalleled. She’d boil down a whole chicken, add carrots, celery, onions and parsnips and cook it all day. She’d make brisket or stuffed veal breasts, and the kitchen would fill with the warm smell of roasting meats. She was also a great baker. She made pecan tarts, rum balls, cheesecake, and every kind of cookie – chocolate chip, peanut butter blossoms, everything.
“Years later, when I had my own family, everyone always congregated in our kitchen too, so much so that we finally came up with a solution: Uncle Leo built us a banquette, an upholstered bench that ran along two walls so everyone had a place to sit. It was so cozy, it was like we’d made a living room in our kitchen. I’d be cooking, chopping, braising, grabbing food out of the refrigerator, my two kids reading on the banquette or keeping me company. If friends were visiting, I’d pour them a glass of wine. It was always a party. We’d have huge Thanksgivings there, and instead of everybody going to the table, all of our guests would end up in the kitchen balancing a big plate of food on their knees. Gathering together like that is a tradition that will always remind me of my childhood kitchen and my mother’s cooking.”
–Suzanne Tracht, Executive Chef & Owner, Jar, Los Angeles, CA
What reminds you of a special kitchen from your past? Leave a comment to let us know- we’d love to hear about it! Special thanks to everyone who participated in this post.