These were the life-changing dishes that inspired these now-famous chefs to start cooking.
The ingredients, the technique and the layers of flavor all come together in perfect harmony to create a memorable dish. Each bite sparked a hunger in them to explore the world of food and master the cuisine.
With their taste buds humming, this epiphany led them to pursue their newfound passion.
Here are the dishes that inspired other renowned chefs and rising culinary personalities to start careers in the kitchen.
Daniel Boulud: Egg scramble with fresh mushrooms
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This world-class chef’s passion for food started young. Growing up on a farm outside Lyon, France, he harvested fresh ingredients and learned to cook by watching his grandmother.
“My grandmother was spending at least eight hours a day in the kitchen, if not more, to feed the family every day between breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Boulud said. “I remember the many hours I spent with her and that gave me a love for cooking.”
The dish that sparked Boulud’s passion in the kitchen was brouillade (egg scramble) with fresh mushrooms.
During the spring and fall mushroom season, he would go with his grandmother to her secret spots in their fields to collect wild mushrooms.
“What struck me the most was always the fact that nature always brought a celebration — if that was the first strawberry, tomato or mushroom of the season,” said Boulud.
“That’s very much what French cooking is about. There’s the technique, there are the classics, but it’s first and foremost going to the market and seeing what the market brings you and then cooking something with it.”
Today, the chef brings his passion for fresh seasonal ingredients to his gastronomy. French cuisine has been his guiding light as he expands his empire with new restaurants and new menus, incorporating international flavors and ingredients.
Fabrizio Villalpando: Grilled octopus
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“I found that I was watching a lot of cooking content, and I found it very comforting,” said Villalpando. “So, one day I decided I’m going to give this a shot!”
“When I tried it, I was like, ‘Woah, food is extraordinary,'” he said. “I think it was the first time I had a dish that was balanced. It had a sweetness that was unexpected. I didn’t know you could mix sweet things with a savory dish, especially in an elevated form.”
This life-changing moment happened while he was sitting in the back of the restaurant, next to trash cans.
With basic cooking skills and a background working in restaurants, he began producing food content for social media. He started by practicing his chopping skills and watching YouTube videos for guidance. As he improved, he started making more and more dishes.
As the son of immigrants, Villalpando’s newfound love of cooking has been an opportunity for him to reexplore his Mexican heritage and connect with the community.
“I’ve been finding that piece of myself that I kind of neglected for so long,” he said. “The Mexican cuisine is a beautiful thing and I keep learning more and more every day.”
The social media star suggested a starting point for those intimidated by cooking: Go chop an onion.
“Go to your kitchen, grab an onion, and just chop it. You’re going to cry and then you’re going to say to yourself, ‘I think I just went through the hardest of the process.’ Then just move on with the rest of the recipe,” he said.
After a good cry, the rest is a breeze.
Lidia Bastianich: Grandma’s cooking
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Bastianich was born in Istria in 1947 — the same year the Italian peninsula fell under Yugoslavia’s communist rule. Banned from speaking their native language of Italian, practicing religion or managing a business, her family felt the constraints of the new ruling party.
But at such a young age, Bastianich was shielded from the political strife and was living an idyllic life — spending much of her time with her grandmother, Rosa, who lived in the tiny countryside village of Busoler (in what is now Croatia).
Her grandmother had a farm where she tended animals and cultivated a large garden. She grew, raised, produced, vinified and milled all the food for the family. And throughout this process, Bastianich was by her side as her little helper.
Her childhood was intertwined with food.
One of her favorites was wild asparagus, which she foraged herself. It was pencil-thin with an intense flavor. She describes the complex flavor as bitter and earthy with a sweet finish.
There were thousands of ways her grandma would prepare the asparagus from pasta and salad to soups and frittatas.
Eventually, under threat from the communist regime, Bastianich’s family fled first to Italy and ultimately to the US — where she launched her cooking career and continued her grandmother’s legacy.
“I left a whole world behind that I longed for, and food was my connection back to that world,” she said.
Today, she’s a restaurateur, TV host, cookbook author and an advocate for refugees and women in business.
“I don’t think she or I knew the influence that she had,” Bastianich said of her grandmother. “Only through years of digging deeper and deeper into myself, I find all these connections, and I cherish them.”
Now, she hopes others can celebrate their own connection with food, just like she did.
“Cooking is not following a recipe precisely. Cooking is getting a result that really reflects what you have, your knowledge, and your desired flavors,” she said.
Jaíne Mackievicz: Flourless chocolate cake
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Her mother ran a home bakery, and Mackievicz loved to help. Sometimes she would mix the ganache and whip up the meringue — and most of the time she was licking the bowl.
She dreamed of becoming a chef like Julia Child, but when her father passed away, she completely stopped cooking.
“This was the thing that connected both of us, and for me it was just a moment of sadness. I didn’t feel like I could be in the kitchen again,” she said. “I didn’t have the inspiration.”
Mackievicz became a lawyer but when she realized that wasn’t her calling, she enrolled in Boston University’s Metropolitan College culinary faculty with the aim of becoming a food writer.
During one of the classes, she tasted a chocolate-coffee cake. Then she had a light bulb moment.
“I tasted one of the cakes we baked, and then I thought about my dad. I reconnected with that feeling and that was the moment I realized that is the thing I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” said Mackievicz. She then made it her goal to cook, bake and share the Brazilian cuisine with the world through cookbooks and TV.
“Just the smell of it makes me think of being happy,” she explained.
“Dreams do come true,” said Mackievicz. “I just want people to know that whatever they know in the kitchen is very valuable and you can take it places.”
Her guidance for new chefs: Take risks, follow your intuition and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t come out perfect every time. She encourages cooks and bakers to play around with the flavors and aromas.
“Courage should be your main ingredient,” said Mackievicz.