By Andrew Parr
I’m 54 years old; a nice Jewish boy from north suburban Milwaukee. I mention this because, though it may not be of import to you, it is very important to my personal history. I had the good fortune of having grown up in a tight knit, loving family with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all in close physical proximity. We celebrated every birthday and holiday together as a family. Needless to say, we celebrated with each other, and with an abundance of food.
One of my earliest food memories was baking chocolate chip cookies with Grammy (my paternal Grandmother, Mildred). These weren’t just any chocolate chip cookies – they were mini, perhaps even micro - they were the size of a penny. The story goes that Grammy made these cookies magically tiny so that when my dad and Uncle Thomas were toddlers, they wouldn’t leave a trail of crumbs around the house from a larger cookie. As I came to realize later in life, a 1X batch yields 3000 of these mini marvels.
That generation was a generation of bakers. My Great Uncle Eddie Krasno (Grammy’s brother-in-law by marriage) was a baker of great proportions in his own right; having owned Krasno’s bakery in Milwaukee. He made a boiled and baked bagel like no other, and an incredible selection of sweets. He and Auntie Yetta came to town the week before my Bar-Mitzvah. That Monday, I came home from school to find all the leaves inserted into the kitchen table and flour everywhere (imagine a LeBron James chalk toss), as he was whipping up magnificent batch after batch of rugelach; filled with cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins.
My dad, Shepp, didn’t cook often, but brunch was his thing. We would come home from Religious School on Sunday mornings, and he would go to work. There were always egg bagels with a thick schmear of chive cream cheese and lox. The centerpiece of the meal, however, was the omelets my dad made. He had an Oster brand flip-style omelet maker. It was bright yellow with a black handle and shaped like a half moon. Dad was a master at creating the most prodigious, towering, fluffy omelets oozing with cheddar cheese.
My mom, Lynne, did most of the cooking around the house, including for holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, which was always celebrated at Auntie Suzi & Uncle Mickey’s house. Mom’s stuffing base was Corn Flakes. Her “secret” ingredient was schmaltz (chicken fat), ensuring that her stuffing was always implausibly moist. When I finally received her recipe, I was mortified. As turned out to be the case with many of mom’s recipes, it was simply a list of ingredients with no quantities, and scant directions for execution. It took me 10 years to get it the way I remembered from childhood. Thanksgiving does not exist in our house unless I make mom’s stuffing.
My little brother, Jeffrey, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. An actual trained chef. While he had prestigious culinary instructors and a remarkable professional career in the kitchen (as well as mentoring many people across various leadership roles), my favorite meals with him are when we grill together. Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day, or any Green Bay Packer Sunday call for Johnsonville brats on the grill; but not until after they take a proper beer bath with yellow onions. Brats are always nestled in a toasted potato bun, topped with Secret Stadium Sauce, and accompanied by my deviled egg potato salad.
What these people have in common is that they have all passed away. I continue to celebrate with my family every time I am in the kitchen; cooking their recipes while hugged by their eternal presence. They always guide me, in my heart, and through their food. Family and food are both nourishment and sustenance, often provided by sitting together while passing down family lore and enjoying food prepared by succeeding generations. Frankly, my favorite recipes are the ones that are in the original handwriting of the author. So, if I may leave you with one thing beyond my own food reminiscence, please grab someone close to you, pull out a family recipe card, and cook that food together, delighted by regaling your new-found sous chef with the stories that light you up from memories of those that shared the family table with you.
Andrew Parr, Angry Olive Consulting's Founder and Best Served Creative’s CHO, is a restaurant and hospitality industry leader with over 25 years of experience including consulting, project management, restaurant operations and talent acquisition. His education includes a BA in Psychology and History from the University of Wisconsin along with a JD from Hamline University School of Law.
Andrew was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, and currently resides in Denver with his wife Jody and their dog Cooper. Andrew is a Past President of the Board of Directors for the Scleroderma Foundation – Rocky Mountain Chapter.