Non­fic­tion

My Moth­er’s Kitchen: Break­fast, Lunch, Din­ner, and the Mean­ing of Life

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

As its meaty title sug­gests, My Mother’s Kitchen: Break­fast, Lunch, Din­ner, and the Mean­ing of Life by Peter Geth­ers, is more than one sto­ry. The heart of the book is a trib­ute to the author’s moth­er, Judy Geth­ers, an accom­plished home cook who became a pro­fes­sion­al chef lat­er in life. The book is both a cat­a­log of Judy’s favorite meals, which Peter tries to mas­ter and make for her, as well as Peter’s per­son­al food memoir.

Geth­ers says his moth­er can decon­struct any meal, name its ingre­di­ents, and then make the dish again from scratch. She chops veg­eta­bles with grace­ful dex­ter­i­ty, checks food for the right tex­ture, remem­bers recipes from years ago, and offers polite­ly stat­ed but hon­est cri­tiques. Peter makes pota­toes that are lumpy’ but deli­cious.”

Judy likes to eat. She likes sim­ple Amer­i­can Jew­ish sta­ples like mat­zo brei (matzah with fried eggs) as once served at Ratner’s, the kosher New York deli found­ed by her father in 1905. Peter likes mak­ing the dish, which he calls Hebra­ic French toast, for his moth­er. As good as I remem­ber it,” she says, Authen­tic.” That pos­i­tive review, he says, makes him feel authen­tic as well.

Judy also likes fan­cy, non-Jew­ish food, such as quail and fava bean purée. The book’s recipes vary wide­ly in com­plex­i­ty. Geth­ers offers humor­ous, though some­times strained, side­bar com­ments. Squish­ing is my word,” he writes in all cap­i­tal let­ters about a recipe for mashed potatoes.

At age fifty-three, Judy start­ed her career as a part-time, unpaid cook. She quick­ly evolved into a French chef, an instruc­tor who worked with Julia Child, and cook­book author. She men­tored new­com­er chefs, earn­ing her the moniker The Ma of Ma Mai­son,” the Los Ange­les restau­rant where Wolf­gang Puck’s career blossomed.

Food and cook­ing sus­tain Judy Geth­ers. After receiv­ing a can­cer diag­no­sis and being told she wouldn’t be able to eat, she defied that med­ical assess­ment and con­sumed half a pas­tra­mi sand­wich. With mus­tard and pickles.

Geth­ers clear­ly knows a lot about food prepa­ra­tion (he has edit­ed cook­books) but pro­fess­es not to be a good cook, makes dis­tract­ing self-dep­re­cat­ing remarks, and claims he can­not per­form even cer­tain sim­ple tasks. His moth­er gives him a reme­di­al les­son on how to crack an egg.

When he makes the choco­late pud­ding he loved as a child for his moth­er, she eats it direct­ly from the warm pot just as he did. He enjoyed the pud­ding as a ten-year-old, she enjoys it now as an old­er woman, and both real­ize the plea­sure each has giv­en the other. 

These shared food mem­o­ries make the book worth reading.

Sarah Fish­man is a writer and polit­i­cal con­sul­tant. For sev­er­al years, she was a free­lance reporter for The Boston Globe cov­er­ing Somerville, MA, where she lives.

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