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Who was your first food/cooking inspiration?

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Many people want to cook like their mothers but unfortunately mine was and is a bad cook. I love her to bits but yikes!! I had to learn to cook very early out of necessity. :) She is my inspiration for nearly everything else but food.

I received my first cookbook at the age of 7 from my favourite aunt who was a good cook. I was so absorbed by that book! She would be my first true inspiration. She would mail me recipes and I began cooking fairly elaborately at a very young age. I made huge batches of perogies, pickles, preserves, lefse and doughnuts when I was 12. I wrote my own recipes and tried to perfect them. My first recipe was for tomato dumplings when I was 8.

In junior high my Home Economics teacher inspired me in sort of a weird way. I often disagreed with what she said about measuring, techniques. flavour combinations and such aloud so she reprimanded me by sending me out in the hallway. She would then come talk to me alone and we would discuss cooking in private. I think she liked that I was so adamant and passionate about food and even challenged her at times. She really pushed and challenged me to perfect skills. We had such excellent talks and I was assigned special projects. While other kids were doing the dishes I was busy experimenting. We actually grew very close and I still think of those times fondly! I believe she is one of the reasons I went to cooking school.

My inspiration now comes from many things but mostly the ingredients themselves.

Who was your first inspiration?

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  1. I think it would have to be my late, beloved great-aunt (Tante Resi). She always let me whip the cream for Sunday afternoon kaffeeklatsch. And I was allowed to drink real coffee with lots of the whipped cream, too (I was the only first-grader that drank coffee!) Oh, she made the most wonderful creamed kohlrabi--I so wish I had the recipe (note to others: If you have a favorite recipe from a beloved relative, get it NOW--once they are gone, it is too late and making it is such a wonderful testament to them). Tante Resi had been a cook to some minor royalty before she got married and emigrated to the US. They didn't want to lose her and I can understand why! She also made wonderful hefezopf (sweet yeast braid with raisins). I was fortunate to get her cookbook and it's a treasured memento (and I am not really into mememtos).

    My mom disliked cooking; on the other hand, she loved cleaning and to this day I really appreciate a nice clean, clutter-free home. Which mine isn't always! But for the big holidays, my dad would cook (his father had been a master pastry chef, so maybe it's in the DNA). Yet he wasn't really a cooking inspiration for me, probably because he used to yell a lot when he was cooking. Not a very pleasant environment to introduce a child to the joys of meal preparation. He's mellowed a lot since then and we really enjoy cooking together when he and my mom come to visit me (only once or twice a year).

    This is really a fun thread. I am interested in hearing what other CHs have to say!

    1. My Mother was a poor cook, except for chuck roast. She was and is the best at that. My Grandmother was a great Southern cook. But neither really had me help except to wash up.

      Then I got married to a man who loves to cook. He loved all foods and if he didn't know how to make it, he learned how. He taught me to cook and it is a pretty romantic thing to do together. Small kitchen, two bodies. After 41 years we are still cooking together. He taught me to eat foods I thought I didn't like. We found some foods I am better making, and some he is better.

      So inspiration, my husband.

      1. My first inspiration was mom: a great cook who did all sorts of cuisines. She had learned a lot when she put herself through Berkeley--working in the houses of the rich--prior to WWII and the concentration camps.

        But others as well. The aunts on both sides were great cooks, as are many of my cousins (some have had restaraunts). We all grew up in an atmosphere in which cooking is normal for both males and females.

        Some of my wives have been good cooks, others not. We've all enjoyed eating well.

        The many, many rustic (markets, street food) and home cooks, mostly women, in remote rural areas around the globe.

        Finally, living for 35 years in places where one largely had to cook rather than rely on restaraunts has been a positive influence.

        1. My inspiration was a family friend, Lyllis. I was about 10 or 11 at the time and I was spending the summer on the Long Island Sound with she and her family. She had a pot of ratatouille cooking. I was amazed at the look and smell, and of course the flavors. I had never had anything like it before. That summer I had many new experiences with food.

          My Mom, although a good cook, is a very basic one. Mom never really liked to cook so she didn't put a lot of imagination into her dishes and we had the same things over and over and over. In my house if it was a Monday, chicken was on the menu, on Tuesday meatloaf, Wednesday sausage and eggs, etc., etc.

          When I would eat at Lyllis' house even the simplest of meals always seemed special. It took me a while to figure it out. It was simply that whenever she set the table for dinner she used her best things. China, crystal and linen napkins. That was Lyllis. Years later she became a caterer in NY and part owner of a health food store.

          She passed away about 13 years ago. I have her Le Creuset dutch oven, her stainless roasting pan and several of her knives that I use on a regular basis. I'd like to think that she'd be happy that some of her kitchenware is still being used and enjoyed today.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Axalady

            That really is a lovely story! It is precious that you have some of her treasured things.

          2. probably my wife. she was a lousy cook to start but followed me all over: cooking over a two-burner electric hot plate in asia; moving up to a roach-infested kitchen state-side; cranking out good meals in a sailboat galley; and so on.

            she's now a damn good cook. i like to surprise her with decent meals that put a smile on her face.

            1. My first baking inspiration was my mom. She is a good cook but has simple tastes; she taught me good technique. However, the biggest gift she gave me was tradition. When she married my dad, she was new to all things Scandinavian. My dad's great aunts insisted that she learn Scandinavian pastries and cookies and provided her with countless recipe cards with spidery, beautiful old-lady handwriting on them. As a labor of love, she did learn to make some of these things, and she taught me to make some of them. Eventually one of her favorite Christmas traditions was using the very old cast iron krumkake griddle and makign krumkake with her best friend once every December, and fully expecting minor grease flareups and burnt fingers. She taught me that sometimes it's about passing on traditions, not necessarily sticking with what you know, and taking pride in doing it right. A Pollock taught me how to make Danish pastry and krumkake and Swedish pancakes, and I love her for it. My father wasn't close to his family, so neither were we, and so it's extra special to me know to know I have some connection to them and the old world that was still so dear to them. The smell of almond extract and baking butter to this day makes me feel warm and loving.

              My significant other was my first cooking inspiration. He took this simple meat-and-veg raised person and taught her about sambal, wine, fish sauce, curry paste, caramelized crust on meat, sweet & hot together, orange blossom water, cloves in jerk and african food, the phrase 'black and blue'--so many techniques and flavors from around the world-- as well as about the New England traditions he was raised with. He taught me to be fearless in the kitchen, and it's been such a wonderful gift.

              1. my mother. she was a terrible cook (because she was a doctor who worked 16 hour days) so i ahd to learn to cook, if i wanted halfway decent food

                1. When I was quite young, in the early 60's, my mother cooked from anything Craig Claiborne. We had cherries jubilee, fancy sausages with peppers, exotic and delicious foods. But then mom helped start up Ms Magazine, and suddenly we were eating things from Better Homes and Gardens. Dinner became things with tuna and potato chips in the title. Yuck!

                  My mother never had patience to teach; nor did she get joy from her cooking. Meal preparation was purely competitive, ie. I make x better than someone down the street.

                  My life changed at age 12 when I was sent to stay with 14th French cousins in France. There we went to market. On Tuesdays, out in the middle of the countryside, the egg man would deliver. Bread arrived every other day in a white van. Oh, and the cheeses at the market were amazing. My cousin Anne taught me to make mayonnaise, make jams from the plants in the back yard, and enjoy the process. My cousin Anne inspired me with gratins, and we never even spoke the same language.

                  Since that time, I have tried to emulate her love of feeding her family. Since 1999. I have tried to spend every summer with her and all those other cousins. Now, she is almost age 80, I enjoy the meal preparation more than she does, but she still loves to boss me around. In the past two years, she has allowed me to actually prepare some meals from start to finish.

                  This gives me so much happiness. But my family is happy every day that I was inspired by Anne so many years ago.

                  1. My brother Bill was my first inspiration. Our Mom was a terrible cook for the most part (though she had a small number of things she could make well) and Bill (who is 12 years older than me) sat me down to watch Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet and while living at home in his 20's made the three of us dinner most nights as his "room and board".

                    1. A simple pan sauce is what changed my life. Sauces I felt was what the difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking. Making a sauce at home was just magical to me.

                      1. Mrs Swanson was jfood's inspiration. After his dad left jfood's mom (not a great cook by any stretch) stopped all together. Mrs Swanson took over and after 6 months of TV dinners and pot pies, jfood said to himself, "this sucks." He went to the library took out the Joy of Cooking (pure dumb luck) and started to reading. so in between stouffers fried shrimp and Swanson Hungry Man dinners, jfood made some OK type food for himself. Following summer he visited his aunt and uncle and his aunt was a good cook. And jfood then decided he was going cold turkey on Swansons.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jfood

                          Interesting, jfood. My mom was a chef--as in Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!

                        2. My first cooking inspiration was my first employer. Considered by many to be the doyenne of restaurant PR in Philadelphia, she really took the time to teach us the fine points about really good food - in return for us working our XXX's off. We worked out of her home and she would, from time to time, cook for us. I remember one particular meal - fajitas. Fresh guac, homemade tortillas, the whole nine yards. I couldn't believe how good it was! She would also take us out to eat at Philadelphia's best restaurants. Krista introduced me to places ranging from Le Bec Fin to Pat's/Ginos. I look back on those days now and realize I was very lucky.

                          1. As soon as I could make my way up a stool, my grandmother set me as her sous chef at the counter to make sausages, knead empanada dough, glaze hopia. And I was happy to oblige. The kitchen was a wonderful place of surprises, where soft dough would emerge from the oven suddenly hard or ice would disappear in a glass. I was mesmerized by the varied colors and textures of our native food: the jiggly moulds of bright red agar-agar, the magical puff and explosion of shrimp crackers when they hit hot oil and even the mere touch of the exotic in treasure-filled banana leaves secreting sweet coconut rice. I was drawn into the kitchen by the mystery and fun of cooking.

                            Surprisingly, what served to turn my fascination into an avocation were people I had never met: Jeff Smith, Graham Kerr, Martin Yan. On afternoons I was home sick, I watched the PBS cooking shows meant to inspire housewives as they mulled their options for dinner. As it turned out, they also appealed to a young boy eager to try his hand at coq au vin and gumbo before Thundercats came on.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JungMann

                              Graham Kerr was also my first inspiration watching TV as a youngster. I recall making his tourtiere recipe around age 13 or so. Also TV related, I remember seeing a short piece on "Lutece the most expensive restaurant in the world" and gazed in wonder at Andre Soltner's art. It inspired me for a while to make outrageous things like composed salads based on 15th C Netherlandish paintings of Madonna in Glory, complete with a Virgin Mary carved from turnip with a blue handkerchief gown! Outrageous and silly but nice to think about oh so many years later.

                            2. Double edged inspiration,my mother was a blight in the kitchen,(my grandmother had a good cook).My father was a well traveled fabulous cook.I was his first kitchen serf.
                              Both of the families had an important background in many types of agriculture.My early
                              exposure to fresh,eating veggies in the garden ect has to be number one,then the pride in preparing and eating well.Had the spouse not been into all things food and most things beverage I might not have left a science degree in the dust and led a life in
                              F & B as consultant from farm to table.
                              I still have and use hand-me-downs for the table and kitchen that will have a tug forever.
                              Dad's fish poacher,Mom's silver,Gran's linens,and the habit"dinner at a set table"daily.

                              Ingredients #1,sharing the finished plate a clos #2

                              1. julia

                                1. i first started cooking when I was about 7yrs. I would watch my mother and grandmother cook, they were the best cooks and they would take time to teach me everything about cooking. Now i teach me nieces and nepew how to cook....

                                  1. my mother made filipino food well. she used ingredients that were everyday for me, but for my friends were either weird or fancy (like shrimp). so because of her i was introduced to a more broad range of flavors and ingredients. however, if she was cooking non-filipino food....eh. so she was influential, but not my cooking inspiration.

                                    i would say Martin Yan was my earliest cooking inspiration. there was something about his ultra sharp cleaver that he used for everything, and that everything he made was simple, quick and beautiful. plus he was funny. i still want one of those giant cleavers.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: rebs

                                      It's so hard to get good Filipino food in Boston; you should count yourself lucky to have had such easy access.

                                      I remember Martin Yan's fast-paced chopping with that cleaver and taking it as a direct affront to my skillz when he would look up at the camera and smile, "You chop rike dis."

                                    2. My mom continues to inspire all of us. When I was youg, we lived in a very small prairie town so far from anything that fresh veg often consisted of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and maybe cabbage. But my mom made amazing meals, mostly by keeping her pantry stocked from big shopping trips while visiting big cities. I may now be a more adventurous or snobbier cook than she is, but she is the queen of turning out great, appetizing, nourishing meals with limited resources. When I see all the condiments, spices or gadgets in mine and my friends' kitchens, it does make me things how spoiled we are.

                                      Also she makes me remember that simple, well-prepared food can often top fussy, ingredient-heavy dishes.

                                      I also blame her for my addiction to strong, black coffee.

                                      1. Who inspired me first? Chickens! I grew up next to a farm and the chickens looked hungry, so my friend and I cooked up the rejects from the farm's vegetable stand for them (with a few worms added in for protein!), over a woodfire we would build out at the edge of the field. Years later we were told those were some of the richest eggs they ever laid :>)
                                        But in the real kitchen, I watched my parents and grandparents and learned to cook at a very early age, all sorts of everyday and ethnic dishes, and translated their pinches and handfuls into actual measurements and recorded it all. After everyone passed away, my siblings (and nieces and nephews) came to me for the family recipes! Years later, my hubby and I opened a restaurant, and I made many of those dishes for the dining public, including daily soups, which was a real pleasure to share those warm memories.