It Runs in the Family
Updated: Oct 2
"She was peeling shrimp in her highchair." This is my mother's favorite line when people ask if I learned to cook from her, and it's true. She was a hard working restauranteur in the Hamptons, running several kitchens and an under-the-table catering operation for friends of friends. The school bus would drop me off at her restaurant after school, I would do my homework in a booth until dinner service started, and I was put to work bussing tables, washing dishes, and prepping food in the kitchen.
After too many years in the restaurant industry, my mother reached the end of her rope and began doing office work. She wouldn't get home until after 6, so to make her life easier she started teaching me how to make dinner for the family. She would leave instructions for me when I came home from school:
-Boil Potatoes until soft, put in strainer. Mash with butter, salt, cheese, and milk
-At 5:00 put Meatloaf in the oven at 350 degrees
-Boil the broccoli in salt water
When I moved out into my own apartment when I was 18 I was so excited to be independent but quickly realized, "Wait...no one's going to cook for me!?" I would call her often, asking her how to make my favorites. It was my love of her food that sparked my love for cooking. After all, eating is the best part.
After a while I started getting pretty good at cooking. My friends caught on quickly and my apartment became a haven for my restaurant misfits to hang out and eat (we'll sensor the rest.) They would gush over the food and exclaim, "Why aren't you a chef!?" At the time I was waiting tables going on 14 years. There was more money in waiting tables than being a line cook so, I never considered it as a profession.
Years went by and I was waiting tables at a small luncheonette in Bridgehampton. I had hit it off with a regular customer and she had asked me if I could be an extra set of hands for a dinner party she was hosting. When I arrived at her house I couldn't help but notice how flustered she was. She was slaving away in the kitchen, un-showered, and her guests were arriving in 30 minutes. I offered to take over the cooking and she hesitantly agreed. Long story short, the dinner was a smash. Everyone was so happy with the food and I had my first real taste of what it feels like to really cook for a group of people. I remember going home on such a high, and for the first time I started considering cooking as a profession.
The next day, I received a call from one of her friends from the party offering me a position cooking in her home a few nights a week for the rest of the summer. I accepted without hesitation. I went to pick up her credit card for the grocies and who opens the door? Her brother in law, Hugh Grant. This was before The Undoing came out, so Hugh had been MIA for a while. Maybe he didnt expect me to recognize him (I was 25 at the time) but little did he know my mother and I wached Notting Hill 1000 times. I kept my cool. He was very nice.
I don't remember what I cooked for them that first night, but I do remember that the roasted potatoes were 'al-dente' (not an ideal texture for roasted potatoes.) I was so embarrassed, but they were so sweet and just asked me to pop it in the microwave, no big deal. Those potatoes still haunt me, but I always tell people that mistakes are lessons, and I haven't undercooked a potato since.
When the summer ended we went our separate ways. I continued waiting tables at the luncheonette, and life went on as it did before. I felt something was missing, though. I was no longer finding joy in what I was doing. With support from my husband I made a decision to start my own private chef business. Establishing Robyn's Kitchen was the best decision I've ever made. I love what I do. I love cooking for people. It's been such a blessing to be able to work doing what makes me truly happy.
From peeling shrimp in my high chair to cooking for celebrities in the Hamptons and beyond, I owe my love and passion for food to my mother. She gave me the tools to succeed and always supported my journey in the culinary world, even though she knew how difficult it would be. I'm forever grateful for her wisdom, guidance, and inspiration.