Jan Hendrik with his mother and grandmother Hessie and Hester. Picture: Supplied

Ever tried copying your mother’s signature dish and ended up with a mediocre result, or a complete flop? There is something about a mother’s home cooking that can fill the soul as much as it does our tummies.


For most of us the first meal we ever made was under the watchful eye of our mothers and grandmothers.

My grandmother taught me how to make two of the easiest dishes around, spaghetti and chicken liver. Despite my countless attempts, my bolognese still doesn’t come close to hers.


Even top local chefs would agree that trying to recreate mom’s cooking is a tough act to follow.

This Mother’s Day, celebrity chefs Siba Mtongana, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, Reuben Riffel and Cape Town chef Craig Cormak share some of their kitchen memories and tips they got from their mothers.


What is the first meal your mother taught you to make?


SIBA: The first thing my mom ever taught me to make was a gorgeous English Breakfast, with fried eggs, mushrooms, bacon, pork sausages, the works! The first time I tried it, it wasn’t the best, but with time I have perfected it.


JAN-HENDRIK: White sauce, or (sauce béchamel). I think this is the first sauce that every child should know how to make. My grandmother is as important to me as my mother and she taught me how to make breads.


REUBEN: I used to help her prepare Sunday lunch. So it was a big meal, as you can imagine. I focused on the desserts. She taught me how to make tapioca pudding and custard.


CRAIG: Probably waffles, pancakes and flapjacks.


What was the first dish you made for your mother as a professional chef? Did she enjoy it?


SIBA: I prepared a gorgeous butter and garlic prawn dish for my mom, which almost sent her into shock. She thought I prepared some sort of strange creepy crawly, it took some convincing. I told my mom the prawns taste like chicken, and she now loves prawns.


JAN-HENDRIK: It was for a competition that I cooked for while studying. I stuck a homemade, very thin cone on the middle of the plate with caramel. It was filled with a parfait. When my mother and grandmother had to eat this, the judges were mingling around the table. My mother couldn’t get hers off the plate so with one steady move they broke it off the plate and dumped it in their handbag making a few uuuummmm and mmmmmmmm noises pretending to love it!


Reuben, front right, and his mom Silvia Riffel. Picture: Supplied
Local chef Reuben Riffel

REUBEN: It was a lamb dish with braised neck, aubergine and parsley risotto.

CRAIG: My memory of so long ago is poor. My most serious meal cooked in my early years, was my mom’s 50th birthday bash. We had 20 of her friends around for a 3 course meal.


Craig Cormac (left) and his mother, Marie. Pictures: Supplied

What’s your Mother’s Day message to your mom?


SIBA: Mama you are strong, beautiful, inspirational, and more than I could ever have asked for in a mother! You taught me how to be a strong independent woman, you always encouraged me to follow my dreams, to work hard and to never take no for an answer. I am who I am because of you, and I love you with my all.


JAN-HENDRIK: Liefste mamma, liefste ouma, when I’m grown up I want to be exactly like you.


REUBEN: My mom passed on a few years ago, but obviously her memory lives on. As she got older she loved being spoilt with family around her. I guess now I would just say that we love and miss her and her delicious breads she used to bake.


CRAIG: Dear Mother, wishing you a great Mother’s Day, hope you enjoy the day with us all. Thank you for all you have done for me, given me and mostly sacrificed for me to have what I do today.
Siba Mtongana's mom, Noliza Daphne Mnwana Picture: Supplied
Siba Mtongana