Seven-layer salad. Fermented fish. Molasses-sweetened rye bread. Chicken soup with matzo balls.
Those are some of the dishes that Twin Cities chefs singled out, with obvious affection, when asked about their favorite Mom-made dish. And why not? They're the foods connected to childhood happiness, and to the eating memories associated with maternal warmth.
We approached seven Twin Cities chefs with this Mother's Day question: How has your mother influenced your career? In many cases, it's pretty safe to say that behind every great chef, there's a great mom.
Mom: Colleen Wandmacher of White Bear Lake.
Favorite dish: "One of the things that I love about my family is that every holiday is the same, year after year. Things don't change. Mom makes a seven-layer salad — it's the quintessential Minnesota Mom salad — and she makes it really well, and serves it in the exact same bowl every year. It has things like peas, bacon, shredded cheese and mayonnaise. Well, it's probably Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise. It's so good. It's the textures. And it's the Miracle Whip and bacon, there's nothing to complain about there, they blend together so well."
Mom's kitchen influence: "When I was growing up, Mom did not enjoy cooking, at all. I don't know why, maybe it was the obligation. She does now, and she's a really good cook, she really understands what tastes good. I went over to her house for dinner a few weeks ago, and she made ham salad sandwiches, and when is the last time someone served you that? She had them sitting on a platter, covered in plastic wrap so the Wonder Bread wouldn't dry out, and they were so good. I kept thinking, 'How can I get this on a menu?' "
Mother's Day plans: "In my family, we do a Mother's Day brunch, all of us, together. It's going to be the first holiday where I'm vaccinated, and there's going to be a little bit less stress involved."
Lat14 in Golden Valley and Lemon Grass in Brooklyn Park
Mom: Noy Sengmavong of Maple Grove.
Favorite dish: "I would say it's som paa, her fermented fish, her sour cured fish. It's the one thing that I always crave. Usually she'll do tilapia, or bass, or walleye. A fillet, or, if it's small, a whole fish. She'll put it in an airtight container with a ton of garlic, and chiles, and salt and sugar and sticky rice. She'll leave it out for a few days until the fermentation process takes over. I've never had lutefisk, but a lot of people compare them. I like to dip it in a little egg wash, pan fry it and put in tons of aromatics — ginger, lemongrass, shallots — and fry it all together with sticky rice."
Mom's kitchen influence: "It's more now than before. When I first opened the restaurant, there was this competition that we had with one another, where she thought her cooking was better than mine and I thought my cooking was better than hers. But now I'm constantly calling her and asking, 'What did you do?' "
Mother's Day plans: "Because of the restaurant, we just don't plan on it, because we never know if the restaurant is going to need us. I make it up to her on a different day. I try to get her sisters together and we all celebrate."
Meritage in St. Paul
Mom: Ginny Berg of Delray Beach, Fla.
Favorite dish: "I haven't had my mom's pot roast in years, but I remember really loving that. I have no idea how she made it, we've never talked about. She had a repertoire, things like stuffed peppers and pan-fried breaded chicken cutlets. Now she doesn't really cook. When we're together, we go out, or it's me throwing something on the grill."
Mom's kitchen influence: "My mom is a good, solid cook. When I was a kid, we had family dinner pretty much every night. She also liked to cook fancy meals on holidays. She was into food in the '70s and '80s, before it was cool. There aren't a lot of dishes that really stand out in my mind, what stands out was her enthusiasm. That definitely influenced me."
Mother's Day plans: "I'll be calling her."
Mom: Jean Rakun of Eden Prairie.
Favorite dish: "It's probably breakfast. She whips up a nice feast, and it has everything that you can imagine, including potatoes, eggs, pancakes — she's the chocolate chip pancake lady — blueberry muffins and sausages. It's the whole spread. Actually, pretty much every meal at my mom's house is a feast. My kids love it, and she spoils them rotten."
Mom's kitchen influence: "My parents are both from Wisconsin, with these Germanic and Slovenian influences. We're the family that eats brats on every special occasion. She would make the things that she grew up eating. She was very traditional, but when I was a kid, my parents were also pretty adventurous. They were always curious about new ingredients, and they were always taking us out to eat."
Mother's Day plans: "I'm still trying to figure out if I'm going to be in Alexandria or in Wayzata. I'll at least see her on that following Monday."
Mom: Anita Tomlinson of Blaine.
Favorite dish: "One that really stands out is her homemade bread. That was part of the rhythm of our week. Sometimes she would use the dough to make pizza and we'd have family pizza night, and that was great. There's a Swedish rye bread, it's a lighter rye and it has a bit of molasses in it. That little bit of sweetness is so perfect, and it makes the best toast. I've made it in the restaurant from time to time."
Mom's kitchen influence: "She's a really hard worker, and she's a great cook. She just kind of showed me, and included me. I just asked her to send some photos of the two of us, for Mother's Day, and so many of them are in the kitchen. Even when I was a baby, she'd sit me at the counter. She and my dad are both really hospitable, that's the environment that I grew up in. I saw at an early age how people connected over food."
Mother's Day plans: "I was on the fence about doing one last Sunday breakfast — the caramel rolls and breakfast sandwiches thing — for Karyn's Quarantine Kitchen [the weekend pop-up that Tomlinson has been operating while preparing to open Myriel]. I called Mom and asked if it would be fun for her to come down for the last breakfast, and she said 'Yes,' so she'll be there with me. And I'll do something fun with her afterward."
Bellecour Bakery in Minneapolis
Mom: Nhia Vang Moua of Junction City, Wis.
Favorite dish: "When I was sick, she would make this baked egg in the microwave, with dried herbs, and rice. I'm still trying to figure out those dried herbs. To this day, I ask her, 'What do you put in this?' and she says, 'I don't know.' But I think that, at the end of the season, they'll take whatever herbs are left — I'm pretty sure it's basil, mint and lemongrass — and dry them in a Ziploc bag."
Mom's kitchen influence: "I love eating at [her parents'] farm. Everything is so natural and organic and free-range. There's nothing to it, it's simple Hmong food, and so delicious. I'm very grateful for that home cooking. When she steams rice, she dumps it out on the bag that the rice comes in, and she fans it to cool it off, so that it doesn't stick together, it's not mealy. It's really good. It's the care that she puts into it. I don't do that for my kids. I use a rice cooker."
Mother's Day plans: "I'll be working. I work every Mother's Day, because it's busy. I'll be sending her flowers."
Saint Dinette in St. Paul
Mom: Wendy Lerner of St. Paul.
Favorite dish: "The Manischewitz matzo ball soup. It's not super-creative, but it was always consistent, she could make it and not mess up completely. She made it a lot, every week or every other week. It was always good, and we always ate it. It's the matzo meal packet, you just add eggs and water. She would make chicken soup with bouillon cubes and add vegetables. It was the cheater way of doing it, but we didn't know she was cheating until we were older, and that's when we realized, 'Oh, man, you really can't cook.' "
Mom's kitchen influence: "She's an absolutely awful cook, so, primarily, it was more 'what not to do.' She comes from a long line of Jewish American princesses, and they're all not cooks."
Mother's Day plans: "I'm not sure yet. I'll probably take her to Cecil's."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib