How 3 Top Chef Stars Were Inspired By Their Fathers In The Kitchen

Fathers mean something different to each one of us. For some, they are the ones who showed us how to throw a ball or fall in love with a specific sport. For others, they are the shoulder to lean and cry on during times of need. They're the ones who build us up and make us believe we can be anything our hearts desire. For some of us, fathers can be all these things and more. And for "Top Chef" finalist, Buddha Lo, and judges Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, they were excellent examples who inspired them in the kitchen. 

While their experiences are somewhat different, all three of these stars grew up with a culinary background from their parents. From the minute they could hold a wooden spoon, they were watching, learning, and eating. And while it may have been the matriarchs that ruled the cooking in their households, their fathers played a pivotal role, whether it was sharing a recipe, an important piece of knowledge, or just the acknowledgment that they were meant to be in the kitchen as well. Colicchio, Lo, and Simmons have taken those pearls of wisdom, held them close, and continue using them today. 

Tom Colicchio's father convinced him to become a chef

Tom Colicchio may be a culinary superstar now, but like a lot of the chefs on his Emmy award-winning show, he had a humble start to his career: scooping ice cream at the snack bar at his parents' swim club. But that snack bar opened the door to Colicchio's passion and today he has seven restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. The man he has to thank for that? His father.

Even though the James Beard Award-winning chef grew up in a household where his mother did most of the cooking, Colicchio says his father would occasionally cook at home. "The one thing I will say in terms of my father," he says with a smile, "he was the one, who when I was about 15, suggested I become a chef. I was cooking at home, and just loved food, and loved being around food and I think he saw that." He thought it was a great suggestion and tells us that under his picture in his yearbook, it actually says "plans to be a chef."

Gail Simmons stands by her father's recipes

Similar to her "Top Chef" co-judge, Gail Simmons has grown up around food. She spent many a day in the kitchen watching and learning from both her mother and her grandmother. As a matter of fact, Simmons' first book, "Talking with My Mouth Full," spends time talking about just that and includes a few recipes. While many were created by the women in her family, there were a few that came from her wine-making father.

Her father "wasn't necessarily the cook, but there were a few things he made really well that I have made because of him," Simmons says. Two of them are pickles and applesauce. "Every September he would get bushels of Kirby cucumbers and he would pickle them," Simmons continues, "and my father's pickles are the best full sour pickles in the world, and we would eat them all year round." Simmons loves pickles, has made them numerous times, and says she even gave them out as gifts at her wedding as an ode to her father. 

Pickles weren't his only specialty though, he also made "great applesauce." Simmons tells us that "he uses the skin of plums so that the applesauce is a beautiful, bright magenta color and gives it a little bit of a tartness. So, whenever I make applesauce, I make it that way," she adds. 

Buddha Lo's father believes every dish should come with an experience

Buddha Lo has been cooking since he was a child. He started in his father's restaurant as a server and watched and learned as his father created recipe after recipe. Then, when he was 12 he finally got to try his hand at cooking when his father let him flip a pork foo young. Lo says he flipped it perfectly, and the rest, as they say, is history. From that moment on he knew he was destined to be in the kitchen — but that was just the beginning of his father's inspiration.

In season 19, the "Top Chef" finalist says he made a Tom Yum that was inspired by something his dad taught him. He tells us he also made a Mongolian lamb as well as a few other iterations of various recipes from his father. "But I feel like above the dishes, I think the fundamentals of what he taught me was food should always be tasty and in it should always be heart," explains Lo. "Always put taste and experience before presentation and creativity."