Chow Bella

12 Metro Phoenix Chefs on Their Favorite Childhood Food Memories

From meatloaf to PB&J, chances are high that you cherish food memories from childhood. And chefs are no exception. From touring the Jelly Belly factory in California to eating Mom's lasagna, find out what childhood memories metro Phoenix chefs hold dearest. 

What is your favorite childhood food memory?

Kelly Fletcher, chef de cuisine of El Chorro 

I would get shipped to my dad's house for the summer, and create the most outlandish milkshakes. Really fucked-up things. The milkshakes were just an anything-sweet experiment. Cookies, chocolate chips, preserves, rock candy. Anything that I could find to tweak the average path of vanilla. They were usually "interesting," which is a word that I hate to describe food.
Rick Philips, owner/menu development of Bootlegger's

There are so many (guess that’s why I was a fat kid. LOL). My mother cooking veal parmigiana … I can literally smell the oil frying the Progresso bread crumbs. The best might be our local poultry mart that made the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, or getting a hot dog at our local Jewish deli.

Chrysa Robertson, chef/owner of Rancho Pinot

Sitting on the patio at the kids' table at my Nonni's house on Sundays during the fall, eating braised quail and dove with polenta. My grandfather, dad, and uncles would go hunting and us kids would "get" to pluck the birds. I remember sitting on the diving board with those musty old canvas game vests, feathers everywhere. It was usually pretty warm, and Nonni would make special refreshments for us: plastic glasses filled with 7-Up and a splash of Carlo Rossi jug red wine. Nap time!

Charles Wiley, executive chef of ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho

My mom grew up in Hanover, Pennsylvania, which had a huge Slavic population. Every summer there was a town fair, and the babushkas would prepare the most delicious food. One year I made sure I had a pocketful of change and ate pierogies until I literally had to lie down in the grass. I would do it again in a minute!

Rick Dupere, executive chef of Kitchen West Restaurant at The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch

Fishing with my dad in Alaska and filling the house with a stinky fish smell when we got home.

Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals 

Chicken and beef satay eating contest with the kid down the hall from my apartment at Newton Circus Food Stalls in Singapore in 1979. Sixty sticks and who knows how much peanut sauce later, I won. The prize we shan’t discuss.

Kevin Binkley, chef of Bink's 

My grandmother making grilled cheese. She would press them until they were very thin. I love them still like that.

Aaron Pool, owner of Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soups

The Jelly Belly Factory tour in California. I wanted to believe that there can never be too much sugar. Not the case. The air in that factory was so dense with the smell of sugar, it probably could have started a monsoon of sugar cane rain.

Jacques Qualin chef of J&G Steakhouse

Working in the kitchen with my mother and trying to make bread. I miss all the comfort foods from my native Franche-Comté region of France, like homemade breads, smoked and cured meats and, of course, Gruyère de Comté cheese.

 Samantha Sanz, chef of Talavera

My family has owned a restaurant in Nogales, Mexico, for the last 58 years called Trocadero. Everyone in my family grew up there, my mom, my cousins, and we would always be with each other. I have vivid memories growing up there; in the afternoons after school, we would run around the whole property, including the dining room and the back alleyways. It was a blast! My grandmother, whom I am very close to, used to always yell at us “Do not run in the dining room!” The moment we saw her, we would all yell, "Run faster, LALA is coming!" When we were exhausted from running around, I would retreat to the kitchen and make myself a snack. The smells in that kitchen were always intoxicating. We have a charcoal grill in the restaurant, and there is always a huge pot of refried beans with lard and Chile Colorado in them. I would grab a piece of this huge flour tortilla called "zobaquera," a traditional style from Sonora, and smear a huge spoonful of those beans on the tortilla. I still go back to the kitchen there whenever I have the chance and make myself a burrito.  

Gio Osso, chef of Virtu and Nico

One of my favorite childhood memories of food is waking up on a Sunday morning and the aroma of tomato sauce simmering on the stove, the meatballs in the frying pan, and fresh-baked bread! That was every Sunday in my house. Nothing better than my Mom's lasagna! Nothing!

Silvana Salcido Esparaza, chef of Barrio Cafe

One of my favorite childhood memories is going to Tijuana and eating street tacos … on the fucking street. Sorry, I hate when restaurants call their tacos “street tacos” as if your ass is not sitting in a chair inside a restaurant. Street tacos are only found on, well, the street. I think tacos de la calle are special and holy and cannot be duplicated inside a restaurant. The dirty is part of the recipe, not to say the exhaust from the cars. 

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Teresa is a writer, editor, traveler, and food enthusiast. She loves chocolate, espresso, and Chihuahuas.
Contact: Teresa Traverse