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Colorado Springs chefs praise moms and grandmas for culinary inspiration

May 3, 2017 Updated: May 3, 2017 at 1:07 pm
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Broadmoor Executive Chef David Patterson made this meal based on recipes inspired by his mother's cooking. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Some chefs credit their mother's and grandmother's cooking skills as inspiration for jumping on the culinary path. Others say that the women in their childhood memories were awful cooks, inspiring the effort to seek out a more delicious path to food. We did a small survey of local kitchen wizards to find out what led to them sign up for a career with long hours and a sometimes punishingly hot setting.

David Patterson is the new executive chef at The Broadmoor and oversees all the kitchens at the resort, including The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Seven Falls. He grew up in Kentucky where his mother and grandmother presided over a traditional Southern kitchen.

"I helped work in the garden, picking green beans and corn, canning tomatoes, making fresh berry and pear preserves. I thought it was just something we did," he said. "Little did I know, those experiences with my mother and grandmother shaped my outlook on food and instilled a deep passion and respect for the crafts of cooking, gardening, canning and preserving."

These are skills Patterson holds near and dear.

"Those experiences in the kitchen, in the garden and around the dinner table have made me the chef and person I am today," he said. "Cooking isn't just about feeding people, it's about genuine hospitality and a way to connect with everyone you come into contact with."

Supansa Banker, award-winning executive chef at 2South Food and Wine Bar, credits her grandmother for sparking an interest in food. She is Thai and from the age of 8 was raised by her grandmother.

"I grew up helping to plant gardens, raise pigs and chickens, and going to a market to shop for food," Banker said. "And I spent a lot of time in a kitchen with her (my grandmother). She inspired me to cook for showing love and care to the family."

Banker later traveled the world with her husband experiencing new foods before settling in Colorado Springs.

"I had so many questions and was curious more about food," she said. "That inspired me to go to culinary school."

For the recent Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Culinary Federation's Culinary Passport event, Banker prepared one of her grandmother's Thai recipes: Khao tang naa tang - rice crackers served with shrimp and pork curry sauce.

"Grandma would make the dish for special occasions, or when I asked for it, because it takes three days to prepare," Banker said. "She had to cook sticky rice, form it into patties, and dry them before the patties are fried."

Banker remembers a piece of advice from her grandmother, "A good Thai lady has to learn how to cook otherwise no man will want to marry you!" Nuff said.

Robert Brunet, aka Chef BB, gives so much credit to his mom that he named his award-winning restaurant for her: Momma Pearl's Cajun Kitchen.

"You know, with 13 children, Momma Pearl did a lot of cooking," he said. "One of the reasons we all learned to cook was because we were expected to help out wherever we could, including in the kitchen."

He grew up in southern Louisiana where Cajun dishes run the gamut from gumbo to jambalaya, red beans and rice to etouffee. One of his fondest food memories was helping his mother with okra, which was used to thicken gumbo.

"She would get fresh okra from my Grandpa Frank Theriot's farm in Bayou Dularge, Louisiana," he said. "She would bring back shopping bags full of okra and chop them up. In a huge cast-iron pot, she'd steam and simmer them down before freezing them in quart bags so she could use them as needed."

Brunet would help out - and was rewarded with okra sandwiches.

"Before she'd put the cooked okra into bags, she'd spread some of the stewed okra on a couple of pieces of white bread for okra sandwiches," he said. "Man, that was good."

And, shucks, Mom was the reason Chef BB fell in love with oysters.

"A couple of times a year she would buy fresh Gulf oysters by the sack," he said. "My brother Chris and I would sit on the back porch with her while she was shucking the oysters. She'd shuck one for me, one for my brother, and then one would go into the jar. I loved oysters and still do. We'd sit there till we couldn't barely breathe from eating raw oysters. Yum!" Momma Pearl's Coco Rice CQ was a favorite dish in the Brunet home and is a constant on Chef BB's menu.

"When we were kids, Momma always had leftover rice," he said. "In the morning, she'd throw the rice in a skillet with some eggs and butter and fry it up and call it breakfast: Coco Rice. I've added a few more things like onions, green chili peppers, cheese and bacon."

For Victor Matthews, owner and distiller at Black Bear Distillery and dean of The Paragon Culinary School, it was his grandmother who most influenced him to take the culinary journey.

"My mom did cook, and she makes great food," he said. "My grandmother, however, was the rock star cook. She was the terror of the county fair, with more blue ribbons than you can imagine: cobblers, pies, fried chicken, and a million other dishes. Her biscuits would honestly make you cry. Those and the cobblers and fried chicken are still my recipes, even after 35 years as a chef. I used to say, in most of the world, chefs compete; but in the South, grandmas compete. Chefs don't dare!"

He describes Rose, his grandmother, as a "bowling ball"-shaped woman, about 4 foot 9 and 300 pounds - and "so sweet."

"She cooked so much she needed three ovens - in a 1980 country home," he said. "I've never had food so good in all the five-star places I have visited. ... No offense to any great chefs, but she was just silly talented."

Austin Hilty, chef de cuisine at La Taverne at The Broadmoor, high-fives his mom for his career decision.

"My mother cooked almost every meal we ate growing up from scratch, and it was a treat," he said. "You could just tell by watching her cook that she loved doing it and really wanted to see how happy we were when we ate it."

And finally, there's Kristi Tuff, a chef at The French Kitchen, whose mom was "not a great cook" but managed to make a lasting memory for her daughter.

"Every time my dad would go out of town for work, she would make 'tuna and noodles,' aka homemade mac and cheese with canned tuna," Tuff said. "My dad didn't like cheese, pasta, or fish, so it was our treat. Now every time I'm homesick, I make tuna and noodles, and it's my favorite comfort meal."

Behind every chef's creative flair, there's usually some kind of story. Mom or Grandma might just be the inspiration!

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