Sunday, May 13, 2001

From Mom's kitchen to you

Food professionals say mothers had major impact on culinary careers

        Ask almost anyone about their favorite foods, their memories of cooking and eating, and you'll hear about their mother. Food professionals are no different, and many restaurants' success can be traced to Mom's kitchen.

        Jay Buchheim's mother, Edith Buchheim, was more than an early culinary influence — she was his business partner. The two owned Maya's Restaurant and Pastry Shop, and together with Jay's father, Gerd Buchheim, they ran the Blue Ash restaurant for 10 years.

        Mrs. Buchheim died in December at age 66, and her husband and son still are trying to fill the void.

Kalte Zuppa
(Cold Cherry Soup)
by Edith Buchheim
  3 1/2 pounds dark sweet pitted cherries (canned)
  1/2 cup orange juice
  3 tablespoons cornstarch
  1/2 cup Riesling wine
  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  1 cup whipping cream
  1 to 1 1/2 cups sour cream

  Drain cherries and reserve liquid. Put aside about 1/2 pound of cherries. Process remaining 3 pounds in blender or food processor until finely chopped; drain, reserving liquid.
  Measure reserved cherry liquid; add orange juice and enough water to make 2 quarts. Transfer to large saucepan.
  Mix cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the cherry liquid in a small bowl until smooth; stir into saucepan. Stir in wine, cinnamon, allspice and chopped cherries. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture thickens and bubbles for 3 minutes.
  Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Transfer to large bowl. Gradually stir in whipping cream. Cover and refrigerate until cold, several hours.
  Serve soup with dollop of sour cream and garnished with reserved whole cherries.

        “It was strange to make saltenas without her last night,” said Mr. Buchheim. “She and I used to make 500 of them once a month. She knew the recipe by heart; it was never written down. My father made the dough, she and I did the filling. I have these great, helpful employees making them with me, but I missed her.”

        Saltenas, a spicy meat-filled turnover of South American origin, something like an empanada, are a specialty of Maya's, and a reminder of Mrs. Buchheim's interesting life. Born to Jewish parents in Nazi Germany, she moved with her family to La Paz, Bolivia, when she was 4 years old. She married Gerd Buchheim, also a German emigre, when she was 19, and the two moved to New York, then Cincinnati.

        Always artistic, Mrs. Buchheim learned pastry making and cake decorating from her husband. The two owned Buchheim Bakery in Golf Manor, then she worked as pastry chef at the Westin Hotel, downtown. Later they opened the Pastry Shoppe in Montgomery.

        Maya's, named for her first grandchild, was the culmination of the family's work, combining fancy pastries with a restaurant, while never losing the personal connection with customers.

        Because she was a working mother, necessity made Mrs. Buchheim's son Jay a cook.

        “I used to make dinner for my parents after they'd been working,” he said. “But she made great meals, too. Her Rouladen, the German beef dish, rolled around a little mustard, was good. Sometimes she made kalte zuppa, the cold cherry soup with meringue. And she made saltenas at home. Often she'd take saltenas and baklava to the neighbors.

        “She was the backbone of Maya's,” he says. “My father and I are picking up the slack, but every day I realize how much a part of this place she was. Not a day goes by that people don't tell me they miss her or how they used to like talking to her. She could stand for hours talking to people. I can still see her in her apron, leaning on her elbow, on the counter, talking.”

Mom's name on restaurant

        Ron Laino named his new Italian restaurant for his mother.

        Josephina's just opened in Hamilton, a new version of the Academy, at Third and Market. Mr. Laino's mother provided inspiration for the menu and the atmosphere.

        Mrs. Laino was an Italian girl from Genoa who moved to New York when she was 4, and married a man originally from Naples. Mr. Laino grew up in Woodmere, Queens, where Josephina cooked and let him hang out in the kitchen and work in her small family restaurant.

        “Mom owned a restaurant, but she still cooked for us on Sundays. Sunday dinner at our house was a 3- or 3 1/2-hour event. It would start with antipasti, move on to pasta, then poultry or beef, vegetables, then dessert, nuts and fruits, pastries, espresso, then liqueur.”

        It's that leisurely feeling Mr. Laino wants to create in the restaurant he co-owns with Michelle Schnetzer.

        ""It's basic cooking, but first of all, it's not a chain. It's fresh, and it's not fast food,” he says. “A meal should be an event, not something you try to do as fast as possible.”

Important lessons

        Like many good cooks, Gail Billings first learned to cook by watching and helping her mother at home in the kitchen. Louise Billings, who died in 1991, taught her daughter to cook many things, but perhaps her most important lesson was about speed and organization.

        “She raised seven kids, so she had to get dinner on the table fast every night,” says Ms. Billings, who grew up in Madisonville.

        And that lesson proved valuable for Ms. Billings, who is the busy owner of Edibles-'n-Such, Too Restaurant and Catering in East Walnut Hills.

        Another important but non-cooking lesson from her mother was that the family needs to eat together every Sunday.

        “We always had a big family dinner on Sundays,” Ms. Billings says. “We always had sweet tea with fresh mint Mother picked in the yard. And we always had dessert.”

        A short, thin woman, Louise Billings' sweet tooth was well known.

        “If she saw dessert somewhere, she couldn't concentrate on the rest of the meal,” Ms. Billings says, laughing.

        The family still uses Mrs. Billings' recipes to make homemade vanilla ice cream and pineapple-orange sherbert. Gail Billings has served her mother's pound cake and oven-fried chicken at catering events.

        More important, Mrs. Billings saw her daughter succeed as caterer before she died.

        “She was pleased, and she even helped me out a little in the beginning,” Ms. Billings says. ;


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