In normal times — aka BC-19 — restaurants across the country would be staffing up for the busiest day of the year, Sunday, May 10. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day beats even Valentine’s Day when it comes to seating and feeding as many diners as possible from open to close.
Chef Jamie Wade, owner of Sand Hill Kitchen, remembers one particular Mother’s Day brunch during her time working back of house at the venerable Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. “At my station, me and one other guy made 350 crab-meat and brie omelets for one service. It was nonstop.”
Hollie West, who opened Sweet Monkey Bakery & Café in Marshall almost six years ago and closed it on March 22 in compliance with the governor’s executive order, says this will be the first Mother’s Day in years she won’t be working. “We’re always slammed with Mother’s Day brunch service,” she says. “Instead, my mom, dad, my 11-year-old, Patrick, and I will cook at home. Our plan is homemade biscuits with strawberries and cream. And mimosas, of course, for the grown-ups.”
Wade, the single mother of a 14-year-old daughter, lives near her parents, but she and daughter Sophie are keeping social distance, so brunching with them isn’t an option. “I’m thinking Sophie and I will bake my mother a banana cake and drop it off at the house,” says Wade.
Like hundreds of chefs and cooks in Asheville and tens of thousands across the country whose restaurants are locked down, Wade and West are doing a lot of cooking at home now. And, as parents of children whose schools are also locked down, they’re overseeing online distance learning in math, science, history and English, as well as hands-on cooking tutorials in the kitchen.
In doing so, they’re digging deep into a memory well of cooking with their own mothers long before they turned pro.
“No one would know how to cook if it wasn’t for women,” says West adamantly. “The history of the professional kitchen comes from the military brigade where men had to set up kitchens and cook for the troops. But who taught them to cook? Their mothers and grandmothers and aunties, that’s who!”
Wade and West recall growing up with mothers who had a home-cooked meal on the table every night for dinner — and pitching in, to varying degrees.
“With my mom, it wasn’t hands-on teaching other than the basics, but she gave me room to experiment,” says West. “And it wasn’t a ‘let’s have fun cooking together’ thing either. It was kind of on the chore list, like, ‘You go out in the yard, pick some things and make a salad because you’re part of this household, and we all have to eat.’”
Wade started helping her mother cook as a means to get out of cleaning up, which fell to her sister. But her main interest initially was in baking. “It started as kind of a stress reliever after school,” she remembers. “I made cookies and cakes that I didn’t necessarily want to eat; the happiness was in making it. And she gave me the freedom to go into the kitchen and do that, which was a gift.”
Both are learning that patience is key to cooking with their own kids, especially when accustomed to working side by side with professionals. “I am kind of a control freak in the kitchen, and watching Patrick take 20 minutes to cut a carrot drives me up the wall,” West laughs. “I have a hard time watching him crack an egg! But we make him cook his own breakfast, and his thing right now is over-easy eggs. He likes to help make cookies, but that’s mainly so he can eat the dough.”
Wade says Sophie does a lot of baking on her own, just as she did with her own mother. And she picked up a copy of the original Joy of Cooking because it has a lot of recipes for the quick breads Sophie likes to bake.
The two of them are finding their way to cooking together. “She liked to cook with my mother, but not so much with me because I’m kind of bossy and would grab things out of her hands,” she admits.
“I think it’s hard for people who are used to doing it for a living, where you have to be fast,” Wade says. “I’ve really had to work on my patience, but we have a lot of time on our hands. The other day we made gumbo together, and it took a while for her to dice a bell pepper, but it didn’t matter. Making gumbo is not a quick process, and she stuck with me the whole time, and it turned out fantastic.”