Photography by Marc Brown
Aquarelle co-owner and chef Terry Wilson has eaten at some of the finest restaurants in France, but there’s a special place in her heart for her mom’s cooking. “I remember going to bed as a kid and dreaming about the leftover mashed potatoes and gravy,” she says wistfully.
Lupita Foreman, Wilson’s mom, often has the whole family over for a big dinner on Sunday evenings. The crew usually includes Wilson and her husband (also named Terry) and kids Lena (age 9) and Matt (age 7). Wilson’s adult daughters, Diana and Rachel, also attend when they’re in town. “My mom might make roast and mashed potatoes…or her special macaroni,” says Wilson, who makes the same dish—a Mexican-style version of macaroni and cheese—for her kids. She loved this dish growing up because it filled the house with a familiar, comforting, savory aroma, and she enjoys filling her own house with the same smell.
Wilson is committed to family and to food, and though Aquarelle is known for its elaborate French preparations, at home with the kids, things are kept simple. “I don’t make a lot of sauces for the kids,” she says. “They love lamb and steak, which they call ‘wiggly meat’ because I cook it medium rare. I cook veggies very lightly, almost raw, and just serve with a little salt so the flavor comes through. They don’t like fresh tomato, though, which is devastating to me. It’s one of my favorite foods.”
Ironically for a chef focused on French cuisine, one of Wilson’s least favorite foods is snails—though it hasn’t always been that way. “My dad was in the military, and we lived in Okinawa for a while when I was little,” she says. “The humidity there was so high that snails would climb up the inner walls of the house. My brothers tell the story that my mom would find me after a nap with shells all around my mouth because I would grab the snails off the wall and eat them. I don’t remember it.”
These days there’s little time for napping, as Wilson’s schedule is pretty hectic. Along with work at the restaurant, she stays involved with her children’s school and activities—but food is never far from the focus. She coaches her daughter’s basketball team at the Y—sometimes picking up the entire team from school and taking them to the restaurant to eat before practice. Last year, when her son’s kindergarten class studied the sea, Wilson did a cooking demonstration for them. “Smelt, octopus, calamari, mussels and clams, soft-shell crab and lobster,” she says. “I brought the whole animal so they could see it, then I prepared it. I asked them to just let themselves try one bite. About 85 percent of the kids tried things and liked them. Overall, they liked octopus best, surprisingly.”
Wilson is also active in the community. As a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic society of women in food and hospitality, she helps distribute food to Caritas and outreach ministries at University United Methodist Church. She takes the kids along sometimes, and it’s become a family tradition to serve food at the church on Thanksgiving and Christmas. She wants her children to learn about giving to others who don’t have as much, and food as an elemental need is a great place to start. “One year, Matt was serving broccoli and this big, lumbering guy comes through the line. Matt says, ‘Broccoli, sir?’ The guy doesn’t look at him, mumbles, ‘No.’ Then he looks up and sees this little kid and says, ‘For you, man…sure.’”
“This is my mom’s version of macaroni and cheese with a Mexican twist. It’s great for using up leftover meat and using only one pot!”
Serves 6 to 8
Olive oil to cover bottom of pan
1 12-oz. package macaroni
3 heaping T. minced garlic
3 heaping T. minced shallots
1½ T. cumin seed
3 T. chili powder
1½ qt. chicken stock, plus extra as needed
2 T. tomato paste
Leftover steak, pork or chicken, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. cooked peas
2 c. grated Cheddar cheese
1 c. diced tomatoes
½ c. chopped cilantro
Hot sauce or crushed chile piquins (optional)
Heat a large pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Cook the macaroni in the oil until light brown, but not more than 1 minute. Add the garlic, shallots, cumin and chili powder and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to burn them. Add the chicken stock, then add the tomato paste and stir. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the pasta cook through—stirring occasionally (don’t be hasty with this step, or all the starch will cook out of the pasta). If it starts to dry out, add a little more stock—you want to end up with a sauce.
When the noodles are almost cooked, add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas and stir. Finish with Cheddar cheese—gradually stirring it into the broth until it melts. Reserve a little cheese to melt over the top. Garnish with the chopped tomato, cilantro and reserved cheese, or spice it up with hot sauce or crushed chile piquins if desired.
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