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Boston Chefs Credit Mom for Inspiration

When moms inspire chefs, diners can count on the meal being hearty and cooked with love

Mom knows best, right? Many Boston chefs cite their mothers as the person who inspires their cooking and helped them survive and thrive in today's rough-and-tumble culinary world.

Over in Cambridge, Guilia chef-owner Michael Pagliarini credits his mother, Beverly Watkins, for much of his success in the restaurant biz. “I cook side-by-side with my mom whenever we’re together,” he says. “That’s what we do; that’s how we connect.”

At Guilia, the biscotti, anise pizzelle cookies that accompany the pistachio gelato and the olive-oil cake are all based on Watkins’ recipes. But, more important, Pagliarini directly attributes the warm, familylike ambiance at Guilia to his mother. “My mom was incredibly good at creating this welcoming atmosphere,” he says. “She loved entertaining. She enjoyed having a house full of people. Our house was that house. Everybody’s friends would come over and she would cook. That’s what she loved to do.”

Teranga chef-owner Marie-Claude Mendy was 5 years old when she started helping her mother, Beatrice Gomis, in the kitchen. “She was an excellent cook,” Mendy says. “She gave me chores to do, like peel some garlic or wash some spices or go to the market for herbs she was missing.”

Mendy grew up in Senegal, and her restaurant reflects her native country's cuisine. She learned several dishes on the menu from her mom, a Dakar caterer-turned-herbalist, including thiebou djeun (herb-stuffed fish in tomato sauce), michoui (roasted lamb shank) and yassa (grilled chicken). “The way I make mine is exactly the way my mom would make it,” Mendy says. Indeed, when Mendy runs short of Senegalese ingredients, Gomis sends her care packages from home.

On the other side of the South End from Teranga, chef Philip Tang salutes his mother, Elaine, at Banyan Bar & Refuge. She is Taiwanese, but her love of food spans the world. “Growing up [in suburban Washington D.C.], we might have eaten red braised pork and scallion pancakes midweek and spaghetti with red sauce on Saturday night,” Tang remembers. “She enjoyed a wide range of cuisines. Her favorite restaurant was French.”

Taste this Tang creation at Banyan Bar & Refuge in the South End
Taste this Tang creation at Banyan Bar & Refuge in the South End (©Banyan Bar & Refuge)

More than just specific recipes, Elaine Tang’s contribution to her son’s career is the continuing influence of her appreciation for all kinds of foods—an appreciation that deliciously informs Philip Tang’s fusion cooking. Tang does admit that the steamed countneck clams with miso pork broth and house-made rice cakes at Banyan is based on the ginger and vinegar steamed shellfish his mom used to serve to house guests when he was young.

Where to Find More Meals Inspired by Mom (or Grandma)

Warm octopus salad at Tavern Road
Warm octopus salad at Tavern Road (Courtesy Tavern Road)