Chef Roundtable

Food And Dining

What was your favorite meal from childhood? Would you change anything about how you prepare it or eat it today?


1. Jorge Alvarez of The Grill on the Alley

Growing up in the west side of Chicago, my family took pride in preparing different dishes, especially around the holidays. My father grilled T-bones and the meat was soft and juicy—just the way I loved it. My Aunt Lili’s pot roast was the best in the neighborhood and everyone could smell it from outside. My mother’s lasagna was the best because she added all kinds of cheeses and meats. But by far, everyone waited with anticipation for the paella that my grandmother made. The rice was cooked perfectly, the shrimp were huge and succulent, and the sausage and chicken were tender yet firm. I wouldn’t change a thing.


2. Mark Payne of deca RESTAURANT + BAR in The Ritz-Carlton Chicago

I used to love shepherd’s pie as a child. This was a regular item in my mother’s winter cooking repertoire. It was pure comfort food and filled the house with great smells and warmed you on a cold English winter’s night. Typically, it was made with minced lamb and potatoes. If I made today, I would make it with braised lamb shank and serve it with an aged farmhouse Cheddar-flavored mashed potatoes.


3. Mariano Suarez of Sushi Dokku

My favorite dish from childhood would be Fritanga de pescado. I ate it with friends when we went fishing off the islands in the Litoral region of Argentina. Whatever fish is caught is cleaned, washed, and cut into one-and-a-half-inch pieces. They’re placed in a cast iron pot of boiling lard or vegetable oil, set over wood charcoal, and cooked until golden. The fish is placed in a salmuera—a bath of ice water with coarse salt, pepper, and fresh oregano—and served with a squeeze of lemon. River fish is preferred for this type of cooking, so something like catfish would work. I will admit, what makes this dish so good is the environment where you eat it, and that is impossible to reproduce. So let’s all travel to Argentina and go fishing in the Litoral region!


4. Kendal Duque of American Junkie

I grew up in Quito, Ecuador and was crazy for whole-roasted suckling pig, which was always served with potato cakes and giant roasted corn—both of which are indigenous to the area. I loved the delicate and sweet flavor of the meat, especially how crisp the skin would get after being cooked in special small rotisserie ovens. The potatoes and corn were a daily staple and have thus become part of my earliest food and family memories. I could never duplicate or change the simple yet natural flavors that I experienced growing up. In an environment where we lived by simple means, the generous spirit was overwhelming.