Mom’s cooking is an inspiration for many Denver chefs. In fact, many feature the staple dishes they grew up eating on their own menus. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked five Denver chefs to share the recipes they learned from their moms. From chilled green beans with a touch of sugar and soy to a homemade lasagna with pork ragu, here are specialties from chefs’ family cookbooks.

Jeff Osaka: Bessie’s Chilled Sesame Green Beans

“I don’t have any romantic stories of me in the kitchen on the stool cooking besides my mom,” says chef Jeff Osaka, owner of Osaka Ramen. But he was always curious about what his mom, Bessie, was doing in the kitchen, whether it was deboning a chicken or making these chilled sesame green beans as a side dish for the family of seven.

Bessie was a great cook, who worked in her father’s Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles while she was in high school. While her family was Japanese, their restaurant cooked Chinese food because of the racism and prejudice against Japanese-Americans in the post-World War II era. The restaurant in the Fairfax neighborhood was frequented by celebrities like Charlie Chaplin.

Bessie, who passed away a couple of years ago, had a heavy influence on Osaka’s career and cooking style, and these chilled green beans are a menu staple at Osaka Ramen. “It’s a simple dish, but complex in flavor,” Osaka says.

Serves 4–6
Time: 20 minutes

1/8 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. blanched green beans
¼ cup black and white sesame seeds
Kosher salt to taste

1. In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, sugar, and black pepper. Over medium-high heat, bring the saucepan to a simmer and cook everything until the sugar is completely dissolved. Strain, cool, and refrigerate.
2. Using a large mortar and pestle, grind sesame seeds until most of the seeds are broken. Add the cold green beans and sweet soy, then sprinkle in some salt to taste.
3. Toss all the ingredients together, making sure the beans are well coated with the ground sesame seeds and sweet soy.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy.

Kenneth Wan: Mama Wan’s Crab Cheese Rangoons

Chef Kenneth Wan and his mama
Kenneth Wan and his mama. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Wan

Chef Kenneth Wan’s greatest culinary inspiration is his mom, and he grew up witnessing two styles of her cooking. She made American-style Chinese dishes—beef and broccoli, chicken lo mein, and the like for New China Garden, the restaurant she owned in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. But the Hong Kong–born matriarch also made more traditional Chinese dishes at home. “I had the luxury of seeing two different sides of the same coin,” Wan says.

One of her famous dishes, crab cheese rangoons, are filled with imitation crab meat, cream cheese, and sugar so they’re more sweet than salty. She also changed up how the rangoons are folded; typical renditions are made with the four edges of the wrapper meeting in the middle. “I recently asked her ‘Why do we fold them this way,’ and she said ‘Oh, well, it kind of looks like a crab claw.’”

Wan features his family’s rangoons on the menu at Broadway’s MAKfam, serving them with a duck sauce that consists of plum and apple sauce, vinegar, and sugar instead of the more popular accompaniment, sweet and sour sauce.

Crab cheese rangoons at MAKfam
Crab cheese rangoons at MAKfam. Photo courtesy of MAKfam

Yields 40 pieces
Cook time: 3 hours (2 hours of refrigeration and approximately 1 hour to fold and fry)

1 lb. cream cheese
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 lb. of imitation crab meat (you can also use real crab, but make sure to drain all the liquid)
1 package of square wonton wrappers (MAKfam prefers the Hong Kong–style yellow wrappers)
2 cups canola or vegetable oil

1. To make the filling, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and crab meat together and refrigerate for two hours to stiffen up the mixture.
2. To fold the wontons, take about 1 tablespoon of the crab and cheese mixture and place it in the center of the square wrapper. Dip your finger into the small bowl, and wet the sides of the wrapper (water is used to create a seal). Fold the square wonton wrapper in half to form a triangle shape. Push down to make sure all of the edges are sealed; this prevents the filling from spilling out when frying. Holding it in the shape of a pyramid, wet the two bottom corners of the wrapper (do not wet the tip or top of the triangle). Fold the wet corners up and out so the edges are not touching the body of the triangle. It will resemble the shape of a little crab.
6. Heat two cups of canola or vegetable oil to 350°F and fry the rangoons for about two minutes, working in batches.
7. Remove and serve them with your favorite dipping sauce.

Saura Kline: Martha’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saura Kline and her mother, Martha.
Saura Kline and her mother, Martha. Photo courtesy of Saura Kline

Saura Kline, pastry chef at Local Jones in Cherry Creek, also has a popular dessert blog where she shares recipes for her favorite sweet treats, from corn and strawberry sugar cookies to citrus shortcake. But this recipe for pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies is the one what reminds her of her mom, Martha, every time she makes it. “I’m not sure where my mom got the recipe, but I remember making it every year with her in the fall,” Kline says. “ It’s one of my favorite cookies even now, and even in the spring. It’s a cross between cake and cookie, with a little bit of spice and some chocolate chips for good measure.”

Chef Saura Kline's pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Photo courtesy of Saura Kline

Yields about 30 cookies
Time: 35 minutes

4 cups flour
2 cups oats
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 16 oz. can pumpkin purée
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
3. Combine the sugar and brown sugar. Set aside.
4. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the combined sugar, little by little, while beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix everything together.
5. Alternate additions of the dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Use a 1.5-ounce scoop to drop the cookies on baking sheets fitted with parchment paper. Bake each batch for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and lightly brown.

Andrea Frizzi: Maria Pia’s Lasagna

Andrea Frizzi and his mother, Maria
Andrea Frizzi and his mother, Maria. Photo courtesy of Andrea Frizzi

Every Wednesday, regulars lined up for Maria Pia’s famous pork ragu lasagna at the salumeria owned by Andrea Frizzi’s family in Milan, Italy. The chef has carried on the tradition here in Denver, selling “the best lasagna ever” at Vero inside Denver Central Market in RiNo. The dish is available every day and it’s an honor, Frizzi says, to showcase his late mama’s talent with this recipe as she’s the best cook he’s ever met.

Serves 4
Time: 50 minutes

For the pork ragu:
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1/2 cup finely diced onions
10 oz. ground pork
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup milk
1 lb. of San Marzano tomato purée

1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

For the lasagna:
12 Pasta De Cecco lasagna sheets
2 cups pork ragu
1 1/2 cups besciamella (Italian-style béchamel sauce)
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano

For the ragu:
1. In a five-quart saucepan, bring the grapeseed oil to medium heat, add the onions, and cook until golden.
2. Add the ground pork and season it with salt; mix it with a wooden spoon until cooked through.
3. Add the white wine and mix everything until the alcohol is evaporated.
4. Add the milk and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes while on medium heat.
5. Add San Marzano tomato purée and water, and season with salt and pepper.
6. Let the ragu simmer for 45 minutes on medium-low heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the lasagna:
1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Cook the lasagna sheets in boiling water with salt for 8 minutes and place them in ice water. Pull the pasta sheets from the water and place them on top of a towel; dry both sides of the sheets.
3. Coat the base of an eight-by-eight-inch baking pan. Place four sheets of pasta on the bottom.
4. Mix the ragu with the besciamella until uniform in color. Place one-third of the besciamella-pork ragu mix on top of the lasagna sheets and sprinkle with Parmigiano.
5. Repeat two times and finish the top with the rest of the Besciamella ragu mix and sprinkle with the leftover grated Parmigiano
6. Bake the pan in the oven for 12 minutes.
9. Pull the pan from the oven and cool it before serving. To re-heat, remove the lasagna from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before putting it in the oven preheated to 450°F for 15 minutes.

Zach Martinucci: Nonna G’s Sourdough

Zach Martinucci, Rebel Bread owner
Zach Martinucci of Rebel Bread. Photo courtesy of Zach Martinucci

Zach Martinucci, owner of Rebel Bread, first crafted his Nonna G’s sourdough loaf as a way to honor and remember his family’s matriarch after she passed away in 2017. He loves that his kitchen smells just like hers did when the loaf is baking. The sourdough uses many of the same ingredients she used to make her Sunday pork roast—cloves of roasted garlic, fresh sage, and rosemary, plus extra virgin olive oil.

Find Rebel Bread’s recipe here or sign up for a sourdough class at the bakery.

Brittany Anas
Brittany Anas
Brittany Anas is a Denver-based food and travel writer.