HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Who Are Your Cooking Icons/Idols?

Do you have any cooking icons/idols?

By this I mean an individual whose cooking philosophy/approach/aesthetic/technique/results you absolutely adore. Maybe this person opened your eyes to the wonderful world of food. Maybe he/she taught you everything you know about food.

It could be your mother, father, grandparent or sibling. It could be a chef, a food editor, or your mentor. There are a lot of big names in the culinary industry and the world of food seems to be getting bigger than ever with celebrity chefs abound. It could be Rachel, Martha, Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Julia Child, Emeril and the rest of them. But it does not have to be a celebrity and you can have as many as you want.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Great post claritas. I never really thought about this until now. You've mande me realize...

    I would have to say it is my partner. Is he a great cook? Not really. Does he know as much about cooking and food like I do? No. Has he ever posted on CH? No. So why may you ask?

    Because he is the one who got me to explore my real Italian roots and travel to Italy where I discovered a whole new world of cooking and eating. Up to that point I really only knew about the Italian American cuisine. Since then, my views on all foods have opened up widely and my cooking has improved 100%. That's why.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ttoommyy

      Nice! Is he also of Italian heritage?

      1. re: claritas

        No, that's the odd thing. He's of Mexican descent on his father's side and a mix of Scotch, Irish and a few others on his mother's side. But he loves Italian food and the culture. We've been to Italy 5 times so far in the 17 years we've been together.

        Also...I would be remiss if I did not mention my mother who of course "taught" me (I observed and learned that way; nothing was EVER written down) all those wonderful Italian-American recipes and allowed me to stay home from school as a child so we could bake Christmas cookies together. She of course was my first influence.

    2. Well, there's a framed photo of Julia Child over our kitchen sink that we refer to as our kitchen goddess...

      But for me, it would have to be Calvin Trillin. He's not really a cooking icon -- by his own account, he's not a cook -- but reading American Fried at the age of 14 really opened my eyes about concepts like regional cuisines, small purveyors and the like that didn't become generally fashionable topics until a good 20-25 years later!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

        Yes, reading Alice, Let's Eat was a formative experience for me as well.

        M. F. K. Fisher was also hugely influential, and although I found much to disagree with, especially on my most recent re-reading, John & Karen Hess's The Taste of America was a revolutionary and thought-provoking read in the late 70s. Raymond Sokolov's columns on regional American foodways in Natural History magazine were extremely educational.

        Then there was Elizabeth David, and (oddly enough) the crime novelist Nicolas Freeling, both for his memoir of working in European kitchens (Kitchen Book) and for the many passages in his novels describing meal preparation and enjoyment. (Freeling also led me to reading the works of Charles Dickens, but that's well off-topic.)

        1. re: Allstonian

          Wow, a crime novelist! I love the unconventionality of your icons.

        2. re: Jenny Ondioline

          Cool. He sounds like a revolutionary is his field. And the Julia photo... Priceless!

        3. You know...this is really great "food tor thought" because it has nothing--absolutely nothing to do with our favorite tv chefs/personalities or cookbooks. After some serious thought, I would say...
          Jacques Pepin
          John Folse
          Daniele DeLorme (my husband's aunt who lives in Paris--THE best food philosopher I know)!

          5 Replies
          1. re: jarona

            Was Jacques associated with Julia? The name sounds familiar.

            1. re: claritas

              They had a cooking show on PBS together that is now shown on Create TV. He also has his own cooking show. He's great--simple. Not fussy. great recipes and he is a wiz with a knife!

              1. re: claritas

                "Was Jacques associated with Julia? The name sounds familiar."

                Jacques Pepin is probably the best "celebrity" chef there ever was. (sorry Julia) He is an excellent instructor, possesses great knowledge of both food and drink and his skills in the kitchen are beyond compare. I can watch that man cook all day long.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  ^^I can watch that man cook all day long.^^ Me, too. My mom is a huge fan of his as well.

              2. Miss Edna Lewis is one of them for me. Her protege, Scott Peacock, is another. Grandma Mimi, who taught me to cook and bake, certainly. Hubert Keller makes BEAUTIFUL food. I love him. Marcus Samuellson; I like his food ethic. Fergus Henderson: the nose to tail thing is wonderful. Alice Waters, and all her foragers.

                11 Replies
                1. re: mamachef

                  So cool! I only recently stumbled upon and discovered Edna Lewis. I watched a documentary about her (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl6JVM...) and loved her story.

                  1. re: claritas

                    A lady beautiful and true, all the way through. Check the Gourmet archives for the Jan. 08 issue, "What is Southern?" Beautiful essay by her and wunnerful recipes. Her potato casserole is amazing, especially if you have a mandoline.

                    1. re: mamachef

                      I read that article as well. She definately was fabulous.

                      1. re: claritas

                        Did you read the connected article about Scott? He was her companion for many years, and that saved him from suicidal depression. She was failing, and it made him get out of bed.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          Wow. I didn't read that article. But in the documentary he mentioned that she saved his life. Their relationship was beautiful.

                          1. re: claritas

                            I'm so glad you picked up on that, claritas. Yes, it certainly was a thing of beauty. The other thing I adore was the great respect for boundaries She never, ever mentioned his sexuality, and that's odd considering her age, but certainly a joy to consider; that she was so wide-open and they loved each other so very much.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Their friendship even crossed many usual social boundaries: age, race, gender, sexual orientation. Their common denominator was their love for (southern) food and it truly blossomed.

                  2. re: mamachef

                    Edna Lewis had more of an effect on professional chefs; in a sense, she was for American professional chefs what Julia Child was to home cooks. Before there was Alice Waters, there was Edna Lewis, without the cosmology and ideology.

                    In a similar vein, I would classify John & Mattie (his wife) Thorne of Simple Cooking fame. Their newsletter comes out very erratically (now about every 15 months, it seems, instead of a few times a year), but for years you could guarantee that a number of the Thorne's musings would wind up within a year in a variety of major cooking publications. Get every one of their books, if you are American and don't have them.

                    Madeleine Kamman and James Peterson: both are reliable translators of technique from a professional to a home level. The kind of technique they teach allows you to become an Edna Lewis in your own ecosystem. Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe fame appears to be a similar spirit.

                    As you can tell, these are not TV personalities. TV has become a food wasteland in the past 25 years: too much shtick and travel/aspiration lifestyle crap (all driven by marketing towards people who like to own lots of gadgets and have an overfull pantry and a kitchen renovation that turns a workman's kitchen into a showpiece that is more for showing than for getting messy in...sigh), not enough technique. (Jacques Pepin is an exception: I love the memory of his rebuke of Julia Child when she made fun of his getting every bit of egg white out of an eggshell - *real* cooks know that the discipline of not wasting anything is the muse of the best technique and repertoire, because the margins of a cooking enterprise depend absolutely upon managing waste ruthlessly; Julia was duly put in her place, and proper. Speaking of Julia, when you go to her earliest, B&W episodes, you can see how much friggin' content there was in them; very little waste in terms of content.) In terms of TV personalities, I loved the Two Fat Ladies - they had fantastic technique, just buried under the shtick so that it didn't look like hard work; those two looked like they could make a feast out of a bag of scraps - which is what the best cooks can do when armed with sufficient technique.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      John Thorne IS wonderful. He gave a recipe years ago that I use to this day. Cubed, floured butternut squash, drizzeled w/ butter and baked till caramelly - handful of shredded parm at the last.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        Ummmm, that squash sounds --divine! Can't wait to try it. Thanks for the tip.

                        It's this one, right?


                      2. re: Karl S

                        OH, I forgot someone. Netty McBirney, aka "Aunt Chick":


                        My mother's mother was a great bread baker, but not so great with pies and cookies and what not. So my mother learned from Aunt Chick, and I've done enough reading realize my mother was far from alone in this regard. Anyway, I have a stained and tattered Aunt Chick leaflet that amounts to a small masterclass in a pie baking.


                        Aunt Chick devised a screen-bottomed pie pan (I have a modern version) that produces a superlative crust (you just have to be judicious in choosing an implement to cut your pie with). Aunt Chick's cookie cutters remain in our family. Aunt Chick was of the newspaper and radio era, and didn't quite make it to the TV era, and I just wanted to put a plug in for her.

                    2. Martha Stewart, Michael Chiarello, and my Sicilian MIL. Also, Jonathan Gold, and Russ Parsons. Oh yea, Michael Pollan "If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple; you aren't hungry"

                      1. I got turned onto food by Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. I used to come home from kindergarten and turn on the TV to see him having a riotously good time. I didn't know at the time that he was well lubricated for many of those episodes! Even at 5 years old, I wanted to be the lucky studio guest plucked from the audience to share his meal.

                        My other icon is my mom. She can whip up a multi-course Chinese banquet for 10 without busting a sweat, and with no written recipes, either. She rarely measures anything, but everything (well, almost everything) comes out tasting consistently great.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ricepad

                          Wow! Your foodie journey began in kindergarten! When did you start cooking?

                          I don't know what it is with mothers and knowing how to cook without need for measuring and/or written recipes. My mom is the same way!

                          1. re: claritas

                            My brother (one year older) and I started making breakfasts four ourselves on weekend mornings when Mom and Dad liked to sleep in, starting when we were about seven and eight. We'd get up, watch cartoons for a while, then start making breakfast. Fried bologna with scrambled eggs was pretty typical at first, then pancakes, fried rice, and omelets. When I was eight, our mom decided that we would take turns preparing dinner on Sundays, so every other week she'd take me shopping (I had a shopping budget of $5 to feed four), so I had to plan a meal, shop, and prepare. At 15, I started working in restaurants, and learned the most about how to improvise in the kitchen when I was in charge of preparing the staff meal nightly at a small Japanese restaurant.

                          1. re: aynrandgirl

                            i also learned a very large portion of what i know about food and cooking from alton. i really wish there were still new episodes of good eats

                            1. re: mattstolz

                              He always seemed a little 'cooky' to me. No offense to him though.

                              1. re: claritas

                                youll have to explain what that means to me, not sure ive ever heard that term before! like he oversimplified things for home cooks?

                                1. re: mattstolz

                                  I think claritas means "kooky", if you've ever seen that. As in a little eccentric, odd, etc.

                                    1. re: claritas

                                      ahhh ok! thats part of what I like about him. probably because its just like me. loves making things from scratch, pretty nerdy, and a little bit "cooky." the fact that our personalities match so well is part of why he was able to get me so interested in food.

                                      however, the one complaint that i have is this:
                                      I WANT TO SEE HIM *COMPETE* ON IRON CHEF. i have no idea if he would be able to hang at all, but its something ive always wanted to see. he's always announcing, but i wanna know if he could do it himself!

                                      1. re: mattstolz

                                        There's precedent for that...Hattori Yukio was the 'color commentator' for the original "Iron Chef", and he was also a challenger (I seem to recall he lost).

                                        1. re: mattstolz

                                          Alton once commented that they are Iron Chefs while he is only a Copper Chef.

                              2. I never really thought about this, but absolutely, #1 with a bullet, my mom. She's fearless and creative in the kitchen. There's nothing she won't attempt--from a highly decorated Bûche de Noël to elegant pies with lattice, or decorated with cutout apples or a whimsical blackbird baked in the middle. She fancies up cakes with fresh flowers from her yard. She has been known to stick sparklers in a cake (they leave behind a weird residue, but it's festive as all get out). She colors outside the lines frequently and tweaks recipes with great success. She encourages me to this day even though she teases me for some of my fussier tools ("Cookie scoop?! I never needed a cookie scoop!"); she is my harshest critic (besides me) and my biggest fan all rolled up in one. It always surprises me when my mom can't execute something perfectly because 99 times out of 100, she can...and the older I get, the more I come to realize/appreciate, not every mom is like mine. I just got lucky. She's the kind of lady who will put together a whole meal for a family when they move to the neighborhood or have a baby. That's my mom.

                                My Aunt Pegi for her encouragement and teaching...all the way back to when I was in grade school and I put together some kind of little dinner (brown gravy from a packet, these Pennsylvania Dutch vegetables I used to love, hamburgers, IIRC). I distinctly remember her saying she was impressed I got everything on the table at the same time. :) She taught me to make tacos without seasoning packets loaded with junk. To this day, I make a variation of her recipe. Along with my mom and Nanny, she made that cool 3D lamb-shaped cake for Easter, maybe you know the one, decorated with coconut frosting!

                                My Uncle Al--he was plenty fearless, too. One of his recipes was featured in Bon Appetit--Shrimp Alfredo. Not in Alfredo sauce, mind you, more like fancy fried shrimp. His restaurant has been closed for years now and people still talk about that dish. Steak Umbriago, too, that was my personal fave. Thanks to my cousin Al, I can make both these dishes now. When I was younger, I was more focused on whether there was extra dough for pizza fritte than learning to cook what we made in the restaurant.

                                Nanny, too, for her recipes that I carry on with great pride--Quaker oatmeal cookies with M&Ms, apple crisp, coleslaw, potato salad and more.

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                  Wow, lots of cooking inspirations in the family. I love it!

                                  1. re: claritas

                                    Thank you, sorry for the novel. I'm on the nostalgia wagon this week, having just scanned several family photos to share with my cousins. :)

                                    1. re: kattyeyes

                                      That's cute! And well, if it was a novel, then it was lovely read.

                                  2. re: kattyeyes

                                    Oh, love this. Please tell me what is Steak Umbriago

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      Drunken steak--you probably knew that much, HA HA--a ribeye with a garlic-loaded Harvey's Bristol Cream sauce. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

                                      1. re: kattyeyes

                                        Umbriago being a bastardized version of the Italian word for drunk: ubriaco.

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          Isn't this a topic for another thread? :P HA HA, in truth, I never knew "umbriago" was one of those words, too, so thanks for letting me know. My uncle's restaurant had a pretty lively bar, too, so "umbriago" was used to describe more than just the steak--especially back in the 70s and 80s!

                                          Did you know it was a song, too? I didn't till I just googled--funny:

                                          Anyway, since you headed in that direction, I'll share one of my favorite stories. For years, Poppy (Nanny's husband) would say what, to my ears, sounded like VATTAY VATTAY DUEY. "What does that mean?" I'd ask. He'd say, "Keep your nose clean." Though I knew what he meant, the wording always struck me as odd, especially as a kiddo. Like, euuuw, keep your nose clean. Gross.

                                          I lost Poppy when I was only 13, but wound up taking Italian in college. All those years later, I asked my professor about VATTAY VATTAY DUEY; he had no idea what I was talking about.

                                          Finally, one day, I was chatting up a nice Italian lady at Maple Giant Grinder in Hartford, CT. They made grinders as thick with meat as my grandparents used to make at Silver Lane Deli across the river back in the day. It made me think, maybe this lady would know what my grandfather had said for all those years. She said, "Oh, fatti i fatti tuoi!"


                                          So, in a nutshell, how something is pronounced really just depends on where in Italy your people are from, no? :) I don't like to think of these words as bastardized, but regionalized and in dialect. And, yes, there's a more colorful version of this expression, but that's not the one Poppy said. CENT'ANNI and thank you for a fun sidetrack here!

                                    2. re: kattyeyes

                                      I do know that lamb cake, Kattyeyes, my Grammy used to make it for me for Easter too. I have an old. yellowed recipe clipped out of a newspaper that I got in her recipe box. A treasure, although I have never actually made the cake:)

                                      1. re: kattyeyes

                                        I am curious about Aunt Pegi's tacos and Nanny's cole slaw....

                                        1. re: peppermint_sky

                                          Not sure this will stick, but happy to share Nanny's cole slaw dressing. It can be used for chicken salad and potato salad, too.

                                          Will get back to you on those tacos soon. :)

                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                            a touch of sesame oil! how interesting. Can you identify that flavor in the resulting slaw or chicken salad? Mmmmmm.

                                            1. re: peppermint_sky

                                              Yes, the flavor is definitely identifiable. The sesame oil part was from me, not from Nanny, though. ;)

                                            2. re: kattyeyes

                                              Hi, peppermint_sky! Those tacos are available for your perusal now. I didn't forget.

                                        2. Isa Chandra Moskowitz! I'm not a vegan, but the Veganomicon is my all-time favorite cookbook and really turned me on to vegetables.

                                          1. Mine was a Canadian tv chef named Pasquale, I used to watch his show on CFCF (I think) back when I was about 9 or 10.
                                            The infectious enthusiasm, the bursts of opera singing (probably fueled by his constant sipping of a little cup of those funny straw-covered giant bottles of red behind him), all the fun he had on that show made me want to cook just like that when I would grow up, drunk and happy. And still crank out humongous mounds of pasta and meats.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                                              ^^all the fun he had on that show made me want to cook just like that when I would grow up, drunk and happy^^...Don't we all? :) Sounds like a fun character!

                                              1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                                                Pasquale! I saw his show in passing numerous times. He seems joyous!

                                                1. re: CallAnyVegetable

                                                  He cracked me up...and all his desserts seemed to be caramalized fruits on pannetone!
                                                  O Sole Mio!

                                                  1. re: hypomyces

                                                    Haha, pannetone desserts. What does 'O Sole Mio' mean?

                                                2. "Adore" is not the right word, but James Beard was the authority on food and cooking I respect above all others. I have seven Beard books.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: GH1618

                                                    Wow, seven books! Well he does have the cookbook awards named after him so that must mean something.

                                                  2. My goddess is Jane Grigson. A wonderful, erudite, witty writer whose breadth and depth of culinary knowledge is unsurpassed to this day.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                      Winner winner chicken dinner, girlfriend. Love love for her. What a writer. She so loved simplicity, and her writing shows that.

                                                    2. Mamachef! Her posts are always charming, witty, supportive and thought-provoking.

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: gaffk

                                                        That is a truly nice thing to say, gaffk.

                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                          "Truly" being the operative word :)

                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                            Mamachef, do you have a cookbook coming out anytime soon?

                                                            1. re: claritas

                                                              No......I'm more about prose. You'd be more likely to see something in print that encompasses a foodinista story. Maybe someday. I'll keep you under advisement!! :)

                                                          2. re: gaffk

                                                            +1 on Mamachef...she truly is inspirational!

                                                          3. #1= My Polish Grandmother....we were forbidden from doing anything in the kitchen( I think she was a control freak who had NO confidence in us to help her). 40 years later, the flavors of my youth still haunt me, but mostly her philosophy that for food to taste good, you have to love the ones you are serving, that good food takes time and sweat, that it is always better to share a dish than eat alone, and that a garden full of fresh veggies is always a good way to get through winter.

                                                            #2 The Frugal Gourmet- sorry everyone, I know, I know, he did some horrible things, but I would never have fallen in love with food from other countries if it wasn't for him. Because of him, I was able to go to my local Chinese grocers as a teenager with enough info to make a fairly interesting Chinese meal. Chinese dried sausage, fermented black bean, dried shimp, dried mushrooms, dried lily buds, chicken feet....not bad for the 80's when my friends were eating sweet and sour ribs!, and from there, it's gone from Sichuan to Thai to Greek to Japanese to Salvadoran.......and so on and so on and so on.....

                                                            1. Sholo Olunloyo .. but such a strange and mysterious character.

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                Shola Olunloyo? Can you tell me a little about him?

                                                                1. re: claritas

                                                                  Shola is chef in Philadelphia whom I met back in college during the late 80s early 90s. He's worked at several high profile restaurants in Philly and runs "studiokitchen" (dinners served at his home by appointment). He has a food blog by the same name. 
                                                                  During college Shola introduced me to much about food. Even in the freshman year dorm I recall him making fantastic quiches but using homemade crème fraîche; he'd pour a few tablespoons of buttermilk into a jar of whole milk and place it under a lightbulb in his closet. He also used banana leaves in his cooking, served Korean BBQ at home, made candied watermelon rind, he made beure blanc for his fish. We're like 17 and 18 years old.  He had rows and rows of spices in plastic resealable trays neatly arranged. If you were unfamiliar with a spice he'd have it and let you get a whiff. 
                                                                  Then there was my introduction to fine dining with items like first growth wines, ports, sauternes, muscat, cognacs, auslese, beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese, eiswein. What foie gras is, what truffles are..
                                                                  Thanks man

                                                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                                                    Wow! Surely you were culinary students?

                                                                    1. re: claritas

                                                                      I was an engineering major. Not sure what Shola was. Like I said dude was a mystery.

                                                              2. I came up with 3, no real order. Of course I learnt a lot from my mom and grandmother, but I don't really consider them icons.

                                                                1. MFK Fisher - I read a compilation of her work a few years ago when I was 15 or 16 and it really made me appreciate food more and consider it more thoughtfully. I'd say "culinary awakening" if it wasn't so purple.

                                                                2. Alton Brown - helped me to see cooking as a variety of techniques, ingredients, etc. in different combinations rather than as an enormous mass of recipes. Made cooking more scientific and so, for me, more approachable.

                                                                3. Grant Achatz - inspired me to experiment and make my own recipes, some of which I've been very pleased with and others which have been pretty terrible. Exploration is fun!

                                                                1. Not quite an Icon or Idol but the roommate who explained to me a steak wasn't done if you put a fork in it and any juice ran out was instrumental in my learning to cook.

                                                                  I was lucky enough to be in the last professional chef's class that Madeleine Kamman taught in Newton Center. She is an amazing teacher and her explanations about reinforcing flavors are lessons that have defined my cooking.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. Funny thing how I always thought recipes should be followed closely until I read Julia Child's "The Way to Cook". She really taught me how to cook and then creativity took over! I have to admit it wasn't hard as I was brought up in a eastern European household where recipes were never used and my grandmother turned out some of the best loved dishes.
                                                                    I have to say Emeril was fun to watch back in the day.

                                                                    1. i am going to go with Frank Stitts and my Grandma Ellen...Many a food fight insued in her house and she welcomed it...and heck the second time she had to make the biscuits, it was your turn to prove your worth

                                                                      1. My mother for Russian cuisine, she was a wonderful cook and made me appreciate Russian food.
                                                                        For French cuisine, it has to be Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. They made me understand and appreciate French cooking and techniques.

                                                                        1. My grandmothers - Bubbes - had completely different approaches to cooking, but taught me everything I need to know about food. For them, meals - all meals - were meant to be special experiences enjoyed with family and friends. Whether it was latkes wrapped in paper towels, apple cake on a fall night, or Sunday brunch with lox and pumpernickel bread, food time was family time was experience time. From them I learned to make every meal with the family a memorable experience, something to enjoy, savor, and relish. This is true for pizza night, chinese takeout, beef stew on a cold winter night, or bbq in the summer heat.

                                                                          1. My mother-always had dinner ready and we sat at the table to eat. Her recipes are still some of my core recipes.
                                                                            My grandmother taught me to appreciate fresh eggs, chickens and vegetable and to know the difference. Her cooking was simple but great. She was an artist in candy making. We spent so much time in her kitchen and it was important to her for me to know how to cook. She always had food in the house and if company came which they frequently did, she was ready. She cooked to make other people happy. She had the worst pans and tools especially knives though.
                                                                            My home ec teacher in Jr High foods class-opened my eyes to possibilities and I ended up married to her nephew!
                                                                            My friend Joan in high school. We took the bus to the downtown markets and cooked the most exotic things we could find. Her parents drank wine with dinner!

                                                                            1. Mine are Giuliano Bugialli and Marcella Hazan among cookbook authors. Italian food is all I really _need_ in this world. Marcella's main contribution was the idea that you decide what to cook as you shop and see what's available, rather than being locked in by a list, which may include things that aren't available (though there are times when it's helpful to use a list). I like Giuliano's way of making pasta: he includes a bit of EVOO.

                                                                              Also, Martha Stewart's first book encouraged me to try catering for a living.

                                                                              IRL, my greatest inspirations have been (in chronological order):

                                                                              (a) my grandmother's next door neighbor Lina, who was from Italy, and who made the best food I ate in my childhood.

                                                                              (b) my friend Jack's mother, Edie, who showed me a lot of other things people could eat at home if they were willing and able to make them, starting with artichokes. I'd never seen one before, let alone eaten one, and peeling the petals off one by one and dipping them in butter, and scraping that off between your teeth--my God, that was magic. And then there was brisket, and other things of a somewhat Jewish nature.

                                                                              (c) My friend and first "food" employer and teacher, Carol Mason in Washington, DC. She's who really got me started cooking for a living.

                                                                              (d) As many others have posted, I enjoy Marcy's (mamachef) contributions a lot here on chowhound. And Roxlet's, too (among others I'm forgetting at the moment).

                                                                              1. I grew up in a household with mediocre food and a lot of processed junky type foods (Hamburger Helper and the like). I found my own way when it came to cooking so certain cooking styles have resonated with me, especially learning the basics of every day cooking. For me, that person is Melissa Clark, cookbook author and NY Times writer. I just adore her cooking and writing style. A close second would be Mark Bittman, as his recipes along with Clark's gave me the confidence to go off-recipe and experiment on my own. Most people with basic kitchen skills can pretty much follow any recipe and I don't see a ton of skill in that. The skill is being able to assemble a tasty dish out of ingredients on hand without having to follow instructions, and both Clark and Bittman have given me that ability.

                                                                                I also would include my husband, who also loves to cook and likes to experiment, and is always willing to go along for the ride.

                                                                                1. Bertha Coleman A Creole Lady of Color from South Louisiana....Started my love affair with food and cooking...Awesome family cook and teacher.

                                                                                  "Sugar Man" White, "Peter Rabbit" Bracey and "Cap" Coleman...Three of the best BBQ Pit Men to ever make a track on this earth..If it could be cooked outdoors they were Past Masters.

                                                                                  My Mother and Grandmother!... Wonderful Southern Cooks and hostesses.

                                                                                  1. As big names - Delia Smith & Nigel Slater.

                                                                                    As not a big name - Mrs Harters.

                                                                                    All three have made me cook and eater that I am.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                                      Reading Matthew McAllester's very good book "Bittersweet" -- about his troubled mother, and about getting something of her back after her death by cooking from her dogeared and spattered Elizabeth Davids (David being another culinary goddess, of the snootier variety) -- I found out that:
                                                                                      a. His father was the photographer who took the photos of the cake on "Let it Bleed" and
                                                                                      b. Said cake was baked by...Delia Smith!

                                                                                    2. Chef Duglass Duglass

                                                                                      Chef Carl Oshinsky (hey, I liked his pizzas)

                                                                                      Also, The Two Fat Ladies (Clarissa Dickson Wright & Jennifer Paterson) whose cuisine I admire and panache and savoir faire I enjoyed immensely.

                                                                                      1. My daughter's godmothers, my closest friends
                                                                                        - 5 of them, each one a different kind of cook: 1) the easy-breezy-just-spend-the-money one; 2) the never-the-same-thing-twice adventure cook; 3) the wild food forager and mycologist extraordinaire; 4) the homesteader in Spain - makes cheese, olive oil, great meals on a wood stove; and 5) the invite-the-world-at-the-last-second brilliant Italian - handmade agnolotti for 20? No problem.