What I Learned from Mom
Notable New Orleans chefs share what their mothers taught them in the kitchen and beyond.
Cheryl Gerber Photographs
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Michael Stoltzfus and Ruth Stoltzfus
Michael Stoltzfus is chef and owner of Coquette in Uptown New Orleans and has been named as a “Rising Star” in the culinary scene. Ruth Stoltzfus is his mother.
A few weeks before Michael Stoltzfus was about to go to college, his mother opened a bakery and café and it changed his whole life.
Despite growing up on a dairy farm in East Maryland, Michael had shown little interest in cooking.
His mother Ruth explains: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and sometimes he’d make chocolate chip cookies with me when he was young, but he had never shown any real interest in cooking, so I had no idea he would turn out to be a great chef.
“However, when I opened the bakery, I needed help and he was waiting to go to college. Something special happened. For the first time, I saw him take charge and become this other person. I could also see he was enjoying himself.”
She continues, “It was just the three of us running the place, myself, Michael and his sister who was front of house, and I think that’s where he found his direction. It was a happy moment of luck and coincidence.
Michael adds, “Like all students, I had done a variety of jobs and was expecting to go and earn a degree. However, in the bakery I realized how creative I could be and it kicked off a whole new passion in my life.
“I started to enjoy cooking and learning to create new dishes. I still remember the first time I made risotto and when I braised some ribs. It was exciting to be able to create such flavor. Then my girlfriend, Liilian Hubbard – who’s my partner and fiancée today – bought me an Alain Ducasse cookbook, and I was intrigued to see if I could recreate such dishes myself.”
After the bakery, Michael worked at several well-known places in New York before deciding to come to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina in 2007. His stint at August was a precursor to opening his own restaurant, Coquette in December 2008.
Similarities. “I’m currently studying to become a pastry chef so you could say we share a passion for learning,” Ruth says. “We are both perfectionists and will drive ourselves to exhaustion to get something right. Perhaps we’re both a little introverted and are happy to be by ourselves and we all give each other the space we need.”
Differences. “Michael is definitely more adventurous than I am in his cooking,” Ruth says, “and I’m probably a little bit calmer than he can be at work, but that’s understandable.”