5@5 - Chef Tony Maws
September 8th, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Tony Maws is the chef and owner of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for "Best Chef: Northeast" in 2009 and in 2010, and was also honored as a "Best New Chef" by 'Food & Wine' magazine in 2005. Along with his work in 17 restaurants, he attributes much of his success to his grandmother and culinary muse Hannah.

If you've been hanging 'round Eatocracy long enough, you'll know we're also big fans of superstar grannies in the kitchen - and Maws is here to explain just why that is.

5 Reasons Our Grandmothers Are (and Always Will Be) Our Culinary Muses: Tony Maws

1. They intuitively know that Mother Nature knows best
"Grandmothers were and are the first 'locavores' around - especially my grandmother, Baba Hannah. She always used what was fresh and in season and stalked (no pun intended) the local farm stand for the freshest possible corn. She phoned home so my mom and uncle could get the water boiling and not a minute would be lost. She shopped in little butcher shops and brought home economical cuts that needed to be braised or otherwise 'enhanced.' Tongue and livers were staples in her household. She was the true inspiration for our Craigie On Main's 'nose to tail' style. Using all parts of the animal, fish, or veggie ensures that little if anything goes to waste and that our guests have a chance to try things they wouldn't know about if they are only used to mass-produced fare."

2. Grandmothers are not afraid of fat
"In baking they used Crisco or real butter - no wimp alternatives. Rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) was a staple in her kitchen. She knew that fat equals flavor. Yes, my Baba was all in favor of good health, but that was achieved through moderation, not by using a lesser ingredient where the real deal was called for - and definitely not by banning fat."

3. Grandmother food makes us feel better
"Every single one of us will attest to our grandmother’s cooking - not only because it brings back memories, but because it literally lifted our spirits. My Baba always knew just the right thing to make for an occasion or your favorite food to lift you out of a funk."

4. Seasoning to taste - not per the recipe
"When have you ever seen a grandmother with a measuring spoon or cup? They know you have to season and re-season until it tastes right. More was always more when my Baba manned the stove (just as it is in our kitchen at Craigie On Main)."

5. Eating with grandmothers is the ultimate social networking activity
"Opening the door to Baba Hannah’s house ensured one thing - there would be great conversation, lots of love, raised voices, strong opinions and candid criticism - all around a table with amazing energy, food and aromas. Whether joining her in the kitchen, or around the table with the whole family, Baba Hannah’s food brought (and kept) us together."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Huh

    Isn't it weird how your grandmother is ALWAYS the best cook ever, trumped only by her mother, possibly, while your own mother isn't necessarily so great of a cook? Would my child think my mother is the greatest cook ever, automatically?

    September 9, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  2. Asenith

    I have been cooking for over fifty years. Our son, just after he married, made the error of his life when he told his wife that my food tasted better than hers. He did, eventually, recover from all of his wife's punishment.
    I do not know where I learned to cook, but I attribute most of it to my grangrandmother and an old neighbor. Our neighbor was a Mormon and she put up all of her food, she even ground her own flour. She was a wonderful cook. I learned how to put up almost all the food most people would buy ready made. I still go to the farmers' market and buy a gross of tomatos, beans, squash,corn, pickling cucumers (our children think my seven day sweet pickles are the best.) I also put up peaches, pears,cherries, apples, ( both sauce, cider and butter,) and all of our jellies and jams. My cherry cheesecake ice cream is everyones favorite and I can make both the "sinfulI" and the "low fat" kinds. I learned to make all different kinds of bread too. I wonder how many of you have had salt rising bread? I also make all of our pasta.
    When I go to the store I watch people buy ready made foods. I know they are busy but I also think that they don't know how to cook anything that does not come out of a can, box or the freezer section.
    I know most of those people do not have the luxury of time and/or knowledge to cook from scratch. I know just what my family is putting into their stomach because I have made most of it. I have about twenty meals I can put on the table in under thiry minutes, and of course, I have meals that will take several hours to cook.
    Cooking is my joy. I express some of my love for my family with food, plus lots of hugs. I made a layer cake for each year of our grandchildren's age. I did stop at age ten since they got to looking like a leaning tower and at ten they were trying to run away from the plate!
    You might think we would have weight problems but we don't; all foods are good for you...moderation is the secret.
    I love to cook and I never met a calorie I didn't love! Many of the my recipes are "until they look right;" seasoning is usually until it "tastes right." Our son and grandchildren love to eat their special favorites when they visit...those dishes are not better than their mother's....just different! Our son may be slow but he tries not to make the same mistake twice.
    Each of our grandchildren will come for a month in the summer and I take great pleasure in teaching them how to cook "grandmother's way." My way to cook is not good for everyone but it does work for my family.

    September 9, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  3. Kate

    I'm a better cook than both of my grandmothers (my great aunties were the star cooks of the family). I also learned to love and respect good food from my parents as well: both Mom and Dad cooked, even with extremely busy (Mom was an MD and Dad an Engineer) full-time careers...we always sat down as a family at 6:00 or 7:00 to a home cooked dinner. Mom also made breakfast every morning as well (blueberry crumbles, poached eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc.) I miss my great aunties dinners – but we clubbed together and made a family cookbook when they were still alive, so I have all the recipes :O)

    September 9, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  4. dali

    Yes! I remember the "until it tastes good" and "such that it feels right" "recipes"! Nobody in my family ever owned a cookbook and we all cook almost all our meals from scratch. And they are so good! I learned it all by watching Grandma and helping her all the time, ever since I was a toddler. Those are truly fond memories. Whenever we have guests and I cook something, I get asked for a recipe. I explain the list of ingredients and how to prepare them, but I can almost never give precise quantities for anything. I simply do not measure anything. You never get exactly the same meal and that is what makes it never boring. The subtle change in flavor or texture follows your mood: today you just feel you want more of this flavor, tomorrow you want more sauce to go with that... Thank you Grandma for showing me that cooking can be easy, fun, creative and food can nourish more than your body!

    September 9, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  5. Sasha @ Global Table Adventure

    What a wonderful interview. As I cook a meal for every country in the world (that's what I blog about), I'm learning the best-loved dishes are always passed down from generation to generation... and usually not changed that much.

    Why? Because they are so darn good they don't need to be changed.

    Take for example the Canadian meal I made – the dessert is called Grandperes (or grandfather's) – and is an incredible, old, much loved concoction – dumplings cooked in simmering maple syrup. Oh yeah!

    Here's the link to the Canadian meal (there is a recipe for the grandperes too... http://globaltableadventure.com/2010/09/06/monday-meal-review-canada/

    September 9, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  6. SD

    I was cooking with my mom one day, trying to learn a recipe for making Korean food. I asked her how much soy sauce she uses, and she looked at me like I was her "special" child and told me- "until it tastes good!"

    September 9, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  7. Jason


    September 9, 2010 at 7:57 am |
  8. Second generation

    My Bubbys on both sides of the family were great cooks each in their own way. You knew on Friday, the whole block would know Bubby was cooking. Never a recipe you could write down, you had to watch. A little of this a handful of that and the dough for the Challa had to feel right. What a great cook from pies and cakes to giefilta fish and coddies (real fish ones), yummy. Schmaltz included. No substitutes here. BUBBYS AND GRANDMA COULD REALLY COOK.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:25 am |
  9. angelarnold

    Just think.....even in todays age of organic, reduced fat, healthy and OMG there is FAT on that....NO one cooks like grandmas...my mom learned to cook from her mom, I learned to cook from her and my daughter is learning from me...when asked for a recipe I'm honest with folks and tell them that I don't really measure...measuring is for non cooks...LOL!! The only thing that is missing in my kitchen is the can of grease sitting next to the stove!! My mom had a mayonaise jar with a homemade cheesecloth strainer on the top (under the lid) that I found in her kitchen when she passed last year.

    September 9, 2010 at 6:15 am |
  10. yougottabekidding

    It takes a chef to tell us that!?? Talk about re-purposing content, or talking to dummies....This chef must be less than 20 or 30 years old. Everyone else Knows this stuff, it's called FARM COOKING. Now all of a sudden it's fancy? Go figure.

    September 9, 2010 at 2:53 am |
    • pastbuildings

      this chef is 40yrs old. I believe this to be his high school yearbook photo that has been photoshopped to sub the mullet for a beard and farm cooking in the city is fancy

      September 9, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  11. John

    While I loved my grandmothers and loved being with them. Now that I know more about cooking, the more I realize that they were not very good at it. Both were immigrants, but I guess the Great Depression had an impact. I have watched my own mother's cooking skills go from "OK" to really pretty good, once she got out from underneath the influence (no negative connotation meant) of her mother. I cook from farmers' market materials and with minimal processed starter materials. No so with my grandmothers. Like I said, love them for what they were. But healthy cooks was probably not one of the reasons. However, one of my grandmothers had a plum pudding recipe that would rock. Healthy? Not is this life, but tasty? You bet.

    September 9, 2010 at 12:36 am |
  12. Rossella

    Could not agree more. As a matter of fact I launched a cooking program: http://www.cookingwithnonna.com (Nonna = Grandma in Italian). On each show I invite an Italian grandma from a different region of Italy to cook with me the traditional recipes form the region that she is from. I must tell you, it is such a gratifying experience to lean from these fine ladies. Furher. my grandma joined me and my mother on the Food Network – 24 Hour Restaurant Battle and I must tell you, Grandma's food was absolutely the winner on the show!

    September 9, 2010 at 12:19 am |
  13. Margie

    'No greater love was ever felt than the love of my grandma while seated at her dining table.'
    Thank you, Grandma!

    September 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  14. nikanika

    Both of my Grandmothers are still alive. My paternal Grandmother had a few aces up her sleeve in terms of cooking, but other than those few her cooking was rather lackluster from what my father, aunt and uncles describe.

    My maternal Grandmother was apparently a helluva scratch cook. However by the time I was a kid in the eighties she had changed to be more healthy-low sodium, no butter. So I remember her making some decent meals, but nothing that blew my hair back.

    Now my mother is a great cook. She took all of the good stuff her Mother taught her plus whatever she learned on her own from cookbooks and cooking shows. However, she adapted a lot of recipes to suit my fathers taste when they were newlyweds. So much so that my grandmother made a delicious meatloaf one night for us and I asked my Mom why she never made it for us. She said "Your father doesn't like meatloaf." "I love meatloaf." He replied.

    Now I took what she taught me and supplemented it. And she swears I am a better cook than she. And even though I can make her dishes just as well, they always taste better when she makes them!

    September 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  15. Lynn

    Growing up, I was very lucky compared to most of my friends because both my Mother and my Grandmother on my father's side were excellent cooks. My siblings and I always had all kinds of gourmet deserts and homemade meals that were to die for. To this day I have never tasted bean soup or split pea soup that tastes anything like my mother's which called for a ham hoch and a bottle of beer! Mmmm! During summer vacation, my Italian grandmother would cook us all kinds of homemade meals like meatballs and spaghetti sauce from scratch, stuffed cabbage and pot roast to name a few of my favorites. There was never any skimping on the ingredients and no butter substitutes. Ahhh... those were the days.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  16. Patty

    This is so funny, because my husband has been posting his Mom's recipes that she learned from his grandmother on Facebook, and all the family is excited! Both our moms are/were great cooks. And we are always invited to Pot Lucks because we learned how to cook at their knees. We're passing it along to the kids, as well. Cooking with love is the key.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  17. dede

    My Jewish grandma had a wonderful garden and grew raspberries among other things. My favorite meals were her kreplach(Jewish ravioli), her shake and bake pork chops . She made great streudle too. She didn't measure or teach me how to cook however I have become a very good cook on my own. Grandma would be proud. I even made dill green tomatoes from our vegetable garden this summer.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  18. Lori Pierson

    My Grandma was the same. The only way I was able to pass on the recipes of hers was all the watching I did as a kid. Proud to say that I can copy some of her recipes by heart as a adult. Grandmas rule!!!

    September 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  19. Ms Lea

    Hey- I have become the G.G. (Gorgeous Grandmother)- I have no grandchildren- and have been advised to expect none– but I love to cook- and yes butter, natural ingredients, fresh home canned vegetables (with a new twist of course) home-made chocolates (to include truffles) and baking galore- use the "old recipes" enjoy the simple - dont loose the nostalgia- It's always wonderful to hear folks enjoy your culinary delights- share the pleasure-

    September 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  20. Carolyn from Tacoma, WA

    Why does the media always use the belittling term "Granny" when talking about grandmothers?

    September 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      I take it you're not in your twenties.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
      • Confused

        Is it a rule that those in their twenties use the term "granny"? Because I totally missed that boat.

        September 9, 2010 at 11:30 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        I was implying Carolyn from Tacoma, WA was sensitive to her age.

        September 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • granny free

      i am a granny and great granny and the eldest of my great-grands called me granny free and i love it and this is how i am known to 9 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren and it is music to my ears and not belittling at all.

      September 8, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • Colleen

      Did I miss something? When did the word "Granny" become an insult?

      September 9, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Beth

      I think its endearing. If you don't like it, don't let the grand kids call you that.

      September 9, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  21. Agi

    This is precisely why I started a project called COOKING MAMAS OF THE WORLD in Los Angeles (you can find details here: http://wp.me/pcL0e-l7). Maybe eatocracy can help me find these wonderful women, who are the best cooks to teach us all! Pretty please, eatocracy :)

    September 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  22. Miguel

    I loved going to grandma's home for Xmas – She made the best homemade tamales !!!

    September 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Tamales friggin' RULE!! I grew up in Hispanic culture (I'm white, my dad just likes the senoritas). My sister's mom makes the best menudo on the planet.

      September 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  23. Charlotte

    My grandma was no great shakes as a cook and my mother isn't much better. Dad had to teach Mom how to cook a few basics when they first got married, and she never graduated beyond the pre-fabricated spice mixes and Hamburger Helper sorts of 'cuisine.' I remember my grandma fondly but not her cooking so much. My mom has branched out lately a little, but.....

    September 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  24. Leah (TXanimal)

    I could feel myself gaining weight just LOOKING at one of my grandmother's pie crusts... Every Christmas my family celebrates her memory by making pecan pies using her pie crust recipe...no calories spared!

    And don't get me started on the cheese-potato casserole...it's a wonder I survived childhood with my cardiovascular system intact...

    September 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
    • Kathy in San Diego

      Cheese-potato casserole.......I must have the recipes (if there was one).

      September 8, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  25. Elizabeth

    As a grandma that wrote a cookbook with my grandchildren, and dedicated it to my grandma, this article just made my heart smile. My Grandma was a wonderful cook, but I think what makes the memories so special, is the simple fact that she let me help. My grandkids love to cook and they are getting pretty creative in the kitchen in their own right!

    September 8, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • Olivia

      Elizabeth, I think you hit the nail when you wrote that your grandma let you help cook, and that is what made it so special. When I was a kid, neither of my parents ever encouraged me to help, but my grandma always did.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  26. Bidya

    The article states that grandmas always will be our culinary muse. While this statement holds true for many generations of the past I wonder how valid it will be for the current generation becoming grandmas when many ladies opt for eating out and relying on readymade meals. Most likely the relationship will also be quite different.

    September 8, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • kc

      Everyone eats out from time to time, even grandmas! They did have resturants (and even fast food) back then. I love to cook for my family and I'm only 22, 90% of the time I cook big creative meals for my family and I can't wait to teach my baby girl to cook too! he legend shall continue in many households.

      You know the cooking chanel is one of the most popular these days, right?

      September 8, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
      • mel

        kc, I have to think that Bidya is right. In past generations, there were no walmarts, costcos or nearly as many processed foods as there are today. Yes, the food network is popular but that cannot be an indication of how many people actually cook at home. With more people working full time jobs, I think you find less and less people also cooking 3 hour bolognese sauces (and other similar meals) during the week because there is simply not enough hours in the day- especially if you have kids! All relationships will look different in the years to come- also because of how technology has grown (our grandparents were not on facebook/twitter).

        That said, it's great that you still cook! I just think you're probably one of the few who still do make regular meals at home.

        September 9, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • Mimi

      I am a grandmother and I can tell you that my 6 year old grandson knows that he can rely on me to have food in the house and that it will be food prepared with love for him. When I prepare a meal for others I spend the whole time thinking of them and how much I love them. I think my grandson senses that and hopefully his little sister will too. In the past he has asked me how come I cook stuff he loves – it is because I love him.

      September 9, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  27. sharon

    WOW my grandmother could make a meal out of anything
    it was all about the butter
    I miss her
    thanks for allowing me to remember

    September 8, 2010 at 6:57 pm |

    My Grandma beat me and made me eat the scraps from her table after she had used her plate as an ash tray.

    September 8, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      You, too? Remember the used toiletpaper for a napkin? Man, that was awful.

      September 8, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  29. wowwow

    Reading this makes me miss my Mema even more. That woman could cook, I tell you!

    September 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  30. Doitagain

    I grew up being my Gram's prep cook and that is how I learned to cook; she never measured anything and didn't use a cook book. I learned so much from her, in the kitchen and outside of it, and still make many of her recipes that I learned purely by watching her. One recipe I could never seem to get was her white bread-it was so good fresh out of the oven with a smear of butter on top...almost like dessert.

    September 8, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  31. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Seeing his grandma's picture reminds me of how I've always wondered how many of the old ladies we see used to be hot chicks in their day.

    September 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • wowwow

      haha i wonder that myself. I look at old men and women and try to figure out what they might have looked like back in their hayday. Probably alot of former hotties wandering around.

      September 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
      • jillmarie

        I agree! What truly scares me is what I'll look like. I'm a bit vain, but using anti-wrinkle creams!

        September 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
      • jillmarie

        My grandparents were the best cooks. Italian-Americans who made their own pasta. I learned how to make the best "gravy" in their kitchen. Everyone from bank clerks to church clergy raved about the pignolia cookies my grandpa would bring them.

        September 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
      • Michael

        I was pretty darn hot in my days...........

        September 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I just got a note from my friend Jen on Facebook. That's HER GRANDMA! Chef is her cousin. I had no idea, but I'm just delighted.

      September 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        Nice. Small world.

        September 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  32. Abigail

    All I have to do is call my grandma (who lives 4 states away now) ask her for a recipe and she will give it to me from the top of head, measurements and all. Then I make it and invite all my siblings over...it brings back so many memories of grandma that it's almost like she is there with us. My dad says I have a special gift of making everything just the way she did. Mmmm her stuffed cabbage is to die for and she makes the BEST smothered steak ever.

    September 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
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