Chefs recall their greatest influences

 summer ribollita

Every chef - and probably most passionate home cooks as well - can recall a dish that inspired them to dive headlong into the world of food, whether it was a top chef who guided them or a family member passing down cherished treasures. I find these stories fascinating so I was tickled to see top chefs recently sharing some of the recipes that inspired them. Not only do we get to learn the who and why behind the careers of a few culinary giants, we also get the recipes to try at home.

For Samantha Clark of Moro, the dish that really sticks in her mind is a Tuscan summer ribollita. She recalls chef Rose Gray of London's venerated River Café teaching her how to make it by "building up the layers of vegetables, first with the base of onion, celery and garlic, followed by the fresh tomato, then borlotti beans, chard, basil and bread, and to finish, copious amounts of Capezzana extra virgin olive oil - a thick, syrupy green nectar with a peppery finish."

After a revelatory meal at Fergus Henderson's seminal 'nose-to-tail' restaurant St. John, Chef Jonathan Jones knew he had to work there. After a year, he got a job at the establishment, and Henderson mentored him. Although St. John is known mainly for meat and offal, Jones found a vegetable recipe to be one of items that inspired him. It opened his eyes to "what a restaurant could do."

Another River Café alumnus, April Bloomfield, was also wowed by vegetables. She was fascinated by how the chefs transformed simple items like celeriac, fennel and fresh shelling beans, making a dish "that comes alive and dances around on the palate." She shared an aubergine recipe inspired by the café. 

Photo of Summer ribollita by April Bloomfield 

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