For most families, this Mother’s Day will look different. Social distancing means that many will be celebrating mom over the phone or on a video call. While this holiday is usually a big one for restaurants with busy brunches and dinners, many of Philly’s chefs will find themselves unusually available on Sunday, May 10.

It’ll be nice for Joe Cicala, chef-owner of Cicala in the Divine Lorraine Hotel, who plans to cook dinner for his family. Perla’s chef-owner Lou Boquila jokes that his wife is tired of his cooking after seven weeks at home, so he’s thinking about ordering brunch from one of the restaurants that’s still open. Jose Garces, chief culinary officer of Garces Restaurants, has a video call scheduled with his mom who lives in Colorado.

Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, chef-owner of Kalaya, will be in the restaurant kitchen on Mother’s Day fulfilling takeout and delivery orders. Her mom still lives in Thailand, but Suntaranon says “I call my mom every day no matter what. Every day is Mother’s Day!”

Here, these four Philadelphia chefs reminisce about their early memories of cooking with their moms and grandmothers. They remember the dishes that inspired them and talk about why they chose to name their restaurants for their family matriarchs.

Joe and Angela Cicala

For Joe and Angela Cicala, family is everything. From the old photos lining the walls to Joe’s grandparents’ silver serving platters, the couple’s Italian family heritage shines throughout their new Divine Lorraine restaurant.

Cicala describes his family’s kitchen as “the central nervous system of the household.” One of the chef’s earliest memories is making pasta with his family on Sundays. When it came time to name his restaurant, his family name was the natural choice.

Joe’s great-grandmother Clementina’s influence can be found throughout dishes like his stuffed artichokes, homemade sausage, and eggplant meatballs. Her name inspired the restaurant’s clementine logo and signature orange dessert.

Angela credits her own Italian family — at one time, 11 relatives shared a New Jersey home — for her pastry skills. At Cicala, she uses their recipes and antique tools to create composed, elegant desserts, like bacio pantesco. “I use my grandmother’s hand iron to make three crispy flowers with espresso ricotta in between,” she says.

What do their families think of the new restaurant? “They’re shocked that it came out so nice,” Joe jokes. “They like our food and think it looks beautiful,” Angela says. “It’s the same taste, just presented differently.”


Polpette di melanzane (eggplant meatballs)

  • 2 large eggplant, peeled, diced

  • 2 eggs

  • 3 slices of white bread, either a rustic loaf or basic pullman, crust removed

  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

  • ¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs

  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  • Salt and pepper

  • ¼ cup whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying


  • 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 cloves of garlic, whole

  • ½ onion, minced

  • 4 leaves of basil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water seasoned with salt to a boil.

Boil eggplant in the salted water until tender (about 5 minutes). Drain and let cool. Squeeze any and all moisture from the eggplant. Get it as dry as possible.

In a small bowl, add the sliced bread, breaking up the bread in small pieces. Pour enough milk in the bowl to moisten the bread, let sit for 1 minute and then remove the bread. Squeeze the milk out and add to a larger bowl with all remaining ingredients (Parmigiano Reggiano, bread crumbs, eggplant, minced garlic, eggs) mix well until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper. Form into balls roughly the size of a golf ball.

In a sauté pan, add the vegetable oil and sear the meatballs on all sides until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and place onto a sheet tray lined with a paper towel and set aside.

In a medium pot, add the olive oil, garlic, and minced onion. Bring to a sweat over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent and the garlic is aromatic. Hand crush the tomatoes and add them to the pot. Run the can under running water until it is 1/4 filled. Stir to get all the tomato puree out of the can, then add to the pot. Season with salt, pepper. Add basil and let simmer on low for about a half hour to 40 minutes. Once the sauce is ready to serve, drop the meatballs in the pot and bring them up to temperature. Serve immediately.

Lou Boquila

Chef Lou Boquila has always known that he wanted to name a restaurant after his mom, Perla Sarvida Porral Boquila. “Filipino moms encourage their kids to go into the medical field or business, but I always said that one day I’ll name a restaurant for her,” Boquila says. “She always thought it was a joke.”

Boquila kept his promise, naming his first restaurant Perla. “When my mom passed away in 2011, that’s when I started experimenting with her dishes,” he says. At his East Passyunk restaurant that opened in 2016, he interprets her cooking his way.

His modern take on a classic escabeche substitutes poached and deep fried octopus for the traditional whole mollusk. He plates it with escabeche and red pepper gels, plus pickled fennel and cucumber.

“My mom would be confused at first,” Boquila says. “It doesn’t look the same as hers, but once she tasted the crunchy seafood and sauces, she’d understand. The memories still come through.”

His second restaurant, Sarvida, serves more traditional Filipino dishes. “If I’m blessed to open one more, it will be something with Boquila, so that there would be three restaurants: Perla, Sarvida, and Boquila,” the chef says. “That would be my final act.”


Octopus escabeche

You can find octopus at seafood suppliers such as Samuels & Son, which also offers delivery.

  • One 4 -to 6-pound Spanish octopus


  • One medium white onion

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 5 bay leaves

  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns

  • 1 cup palm vinegar

  • 1 gallon water

  • 3 tablespoons salt

Place all in one pot and bring to a slow simmer and cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours or until octopus is tender. Take out octopus and shock in ice water then set aside.


  • 2 tablespoon chopped ginger

  • 2 tablespoons chopped onions

  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic

  • 1 chopped red bell pepper

  • 1 long hot pepper

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 2 cups sugarcane vinegar

  • ½ cup water

  • 4 grams agar-agar powder

  • ½ cup brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons salt

Using a saucepan, add vegetable oil, then sweat ginger, onions, garlic and peppers over medium heat until soft. About 10 minutes.

Add 2 cups sugarcane vinegar, 1/2 cup water, salt and sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and add 4 grams of agar-agar, then blend until smooth and cool on a sheet pan. Once cooled, blend again to make gel.


  • 2 cups red pepper juice

  • 4 grams agar-agar

Using a small saucepan, simmer together red pepper juice and stir to combine. Blend into a gel once cool.

Jose Garces

Chef Jose Garces takes culinary inspiration from two women in his family with very different styles.

Garces, whose Ecuadoran parents immigrated to Chicago, says that his mom, Magdalena, embraced American cooking, making classics like pot roast and chicken wings. A naturally gifted cook, she never let cooking for her three sons become a chore. “She trained me to be a good sous chef,” Garces recalls.

“My grandmother, Mamita Amada, would spend the whole time in the kitchen when visiting us,” Garces says. “She taught everyone in my family how to cook.” The celebrity chef fondly remembers her empanadas, ceviche, and soulful braised dishes. Amada — who died at age 96 in 2017 — often arrived from Ecuador with cheese and yuca. “My pride in sourcing the best ingredients probably started with her,” he says.

He named his first restaurant Amada, which “translates to loved one or beloved.” Since then, “Amada’s Empanadas” have been a menu highlight, though Garces says he can’t compete with his grandmother’s version.

“She would work the plantain into the table so that it became almost as soft as pizza dough,” Garces says. “She would be pleased that I can pull it off, but her version would absolutely be better.”


Empanadas de verde con pollo

Green Plantain Empanadas with Braised Chicken

Makes 12 empanadas

The plantains must be squeezed through a ricer twice to create a smooth dough and to develop the starches. The small dough rounds can be refrigerated for a few hours if covered tightly with plastic wrap; same goes for the formed empanadas. But don’t push the timing — the dough will begin to dry out and crack after 3 hours. Any leftover chicken filling is excellent in tacos or on a salad.


  • 2 green plantains (about 1 pound)

  • Kosher salt


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • ¼ pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, coarsely cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • ¼ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, coarsely cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • ½ Spanish onion, diced small

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)

  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked sweet paprika

  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground

  • 1 cup chicken stock

  • 1 small Yukon Gold potato, peeled, diced small, and blanched

  • ½ pound fresh English peas, shelled and blanched

  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 2 scallions (white and green parts), minced

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1½ quarts vegetable oil, for frying

  • Aji costeño, for serving

To peel the plantains, split the skins lengthwise with a sharp knife and soak in warm water until the skins are easily removed, about 30 minutes.

To make the dough, bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil and cook the plantains until they are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the plantains to rest in the water until they are cool to the touch.

Pass the cooked plantains through a ricer into a bowl. Rice the plantains a second time.

Knead the resulting dough until it is very smooth, about 5 minutes. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature, covered with a damp towel, for 1 hour before making the empanadas.

To make the filling, heat the butter and olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, onion and garlic and cook until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the paprika, achiote paste, tomato paste, and cumin and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the stock, potato, peas, cilantro, parsley and scallions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Lift out the chicken meat, shred it and mix it back into the filling.

To assemble the empanadas, divide the dough into a dozen 1-inch balls. Using a manual tortilla press, a rolling pin, or the heel of your hand, press each dough ball into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. Mound 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each round and fold over to form a half-moon shape. Use a dinner fork to crimp the outer edge. Alternatively, use a plastic empanada press from a Latin market.

To cook the empanadas, heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a stockpot, using a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fry the empanadas in batches until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes each, turning once in the oil. Drain them on the baking sheet. Season to taste with salt before serving with aji costeño.

Recipes reprinted with permission from ‘The Latin Road Home’ by Jose Garces, copyright 2012, Lake Isle Press Inc.

Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon

Though chef Nok Suntaranon moved away from home as a young woman, she still talks to her mom, Kalaya, every day. “We talk about food!,” Suntaranon says. They go over recipes and techniques

For the Thai chef, who has worked in kitchens throughout the world, cooking is still about family memories. “My mom’s curry paste is priceless,” Suntaranon says of the harmonious blend of spices that her mom sold at a local market.

When Suntaranon opened her Italian Market restaurant, “it had to be her name,” the chef says. “She’s generous, smart, talented, and hardworking, with a great sense of humor.”

According to Suntaranon, her mom thinks it’s nice to have a restaurant named after her, but is most proud that guests like the food. Missing her mom, Suntaranon recently added a family favorite, crab and pork dumpling, to the menu. The dumplings will be available for takeout or delivery on Mother’s Day.

“She’s my best friend,” Suntaranon says. “With my restaurant, I can send a message about how awesome my mother is!”


Pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings

Makes about 20-25 (serves 6)

  • 100 grams ground raw pork

  • 100 grams minced raw shrimp

  • 50 grams jumbo lump crabmeat

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot

  • 1 tablespoon cilantro chopped

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • Soy sauce

  • Oyster sauce

  • Salt

  • Sugar

  • Wonton wrappers

In a bowl, mix the pork, shrimp, crabmeat, garlic, shallot, cilantro, pepper oil and cornstarch until well combined. To test seasoning, cook a bit of the mixture in a pan, then add soy sauce and oyster sauce, salt, and sugar to taste to the raw dumping mixture.

Wrap mixture in wonton wrappers. Steam in a bamboo steamer or a double boiler for 10 to 15 minutes.