While many chefs serve food reminiscent of their childhoods, few would recruit their mothers to train the kitchen staff.

But Meherwan Irani, born in London and raised in Ahmednagar, India, thinks that when it comes to the kitchen, mother knows best.

As a child, Irani spent years watching as his mom ground whole spices and cooked traditional fare. So when he opened Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C., in 2009, he flew in his mother, Amrit, to school the staff in Indian food.

For Irani, his mother's wisdom turned out to be a boon for business. “My mom's cooking influences everything,” he says.

In 2012, he opened an Indian-influenced bar called MG Road. Earlier this year, he opened a second Chai Pani location in Decatur, Ga. The Atlanta Journal Constitution in March called it “one of the hottest restaurants around right now.”

So great is the response that team Chai Pani struggles with how to stay true to Irani's roots while serving the masses. When truly stuck, Irani invokes his mother's name.

“With the amount of covers we're doing, it's really hard to stick to the integrity of what we set out to do,” he says. “The cooks that are still with me who were here when my mother first came will still use my mom as the litmus test: 'What would Amrit say?' And that usually answers the question.”

It's ironic that the essence of home would play such a strong role in a restaurant known for "street food." But Indian mothers, says Irani, influence an army of cooks.

“The success of Chai Pani is a tribute to not just my mom, but to the moms of India,” Irani says. “They're the ones cooking the food for a nation of 1.2 billion people.”

A Gourmet Direction

Hugh Acheson's parents, who split while he was young, weren't exactly foodies.

“My dad is an economist,” he says. “I learned how to live off fish sticks and canned yellow wax beans, fed to me by a father who loved rice and French bread. It wasn't a horrible upbringing... but I wouldn't say it was full of the things we needed to be eating.”

Acheson, who opened his first restaurant, Five & Ten, in Athens, Ga. in 2000, is currently building his fourth, as-yet-unnamed restaurant a few hours away in Savannah. Even though the restaurant won't open until 2014, he already knows the proximity of the coast means he'll source from local seafood purveyors.

He has a history of absorbing his surroundings and expressing them through food — even though the chef is a born Canadian, his proficiency with Southern foods helps him stand out among his peers. “It would be sad to not cook the food in my own backyard, wherever that backyard may be,” Acheson says.

From age 11 through 15, his backyard was in South Carolina, where he lived with his mother. “My mom had this second coming of wanting to be in the kitchen, and it was interesting to see that,” he says. “It was directed by subscriptions to Gourmet magazine.”

Hugh Acheson

Chef Hugh Acheson's mother helped him appreciate the art of constructing a meal. 'Foods are now made to be so easy,' he says. 'But beauty is not easy.'

Rinne Allen

Dinners became summer suppers of cold noodles with olive oil and capers, and plates of salumi, cheeses and simply prepared vegetables. “It's essentially an excuse for being lazy, but it's really good,” he says. “It's not typically the way we eat in America. It was food to make you feel good.”

Acheson still grazes on vegetables daily. “The main part of my diet is eating two heads of lettuce and four pounds of carrots each day … one thing I think I learned (from my mother) is the idea of looking at food as it can be a beautiful piece-meal thing,” he says.

Keeping track of such family foodways is essential to our ways of eating, Acheson adds over the noise of construction in his own new restaurant.

“I think the artisan food movement has made us look more closely at what we've lost,” he says. “The idea that the kid down the street, the 18-year-old in the sorority house, has no idea what their grandmother did with scuppernongs. When we lose that, that's when we lose the beauty of foods. Foods are now made to be so easy. But beauty is not easy.”

Welcome to the Gunshow

Kevin Gillespie, former executive chef of Woodfire Grill and Top Chef season 6 runner-up, is preparing this month to open an Atlanta restaurant called Gunshow. Its format is reminiscent of a dim-sum eatery only in that guests select from food as it's rolled about on carts or toted around on trays. Gillespie hopes dining at Gunshow will feel more like a family gathering than a starched-up, buttoned-down dining experience.

And not an inch of the menu is inspired by his mom.

Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie's 'Granny' prepared Southern Appalachian meals that influence his cooking today.

Angie Mosier

“My mom is not a very good cook, to be honest with you, and I don't think she'd mind me saying that,” Gillespie says, laughing. “When people ask my mom, 'What did you teach Kevin?' She's like, 'I taught him how to make reservations.'”

His paternal grandmother, a woman he calls “Granny,” cooked the Southern Appalachian meals that mostly sustained him through childhood and influence him today. Granny's family lived on the same street and gathered at her house to eat. “She cooked every meal, every day,” Gillespie says.

Gillespie's favorite family-inspired dish is a layered vegetable bake of cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes, drizzled with rendered fatback. (In his James Beard-nominated cookbook, Fire In My Belly, it's called the “One Pot Hog Supper”).

That type of rustic cuisine infuses Gillespie's style, though it still took a while to permeate his menus. After appearing on Top Chef, Gillespie returned to Atlanta with a case of classic-technique fatigue. He was inspired to get back to basics.

“And what came out of it was this interesting mash-up of classic, Appalachian-Southern cuisine and very refined European technique,” he says.

In essence, it's his family's food, just gussied up a bit. “It works for me, and I think it's what allows me to do the food that I do,” he says.

The Family Table

Lidia Bastianich is the chef and owner of several Italian restaurants, including the renowned Del Posto in New York City. She's also written a number of cookbooks focusing on a matter close to her heart — food and where it fits in the family.

“I feel like children have to get close to food at an early age so that food becomes their friend,” Bastianich says. “Food becomes community, a medium for them to express themselves. Food becomes such a conduit for emotions and all kinds of messages — and that's being missed.” Try Lidia's mom's chicken and potatoes recipe.

Lidia Bastianich

Lidia Bastianich with her grandchildren. 'The food that you have cooked or eaten or smelled in the kitchen of your home is part of the profile of who you are,' says  the popular chef, restaurateur and TV personality. 'I think bringing children into that milieu at a very early age is so important.'

Mike Lee/Four32C

Those messages weren't missed in the Bastianich home, where kids Joe and Tanya were incorporated into life in the kitchen. “Food was at the center of our existence,” Bastianich says. “The table was the main place where the family gathered. Where we talked, where we had good times, where we had discussions. Cooking was just a given… and I think the children just gravitated (to it).”

Today, Joe and Tanya are driving forces behind Bastiniach's many culinary projects. With Mario Batali, Oscar Farinetti and her son Joe (who serves as a judge on the FOX show, Master Chef), Bastianich opened Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City. Tanya, who has a PhD from Oxford, launched with her mother an Italian food and wine travel company.

“The food that you have cooked or eaten or smelled in the kitchen of your home is part of the profile of who you are,” Bastianich says. “I think bringing children into that milieu at a very early age is so important. It makes them feel comfortable with food and love food.”

It also keeps them entertained, while encouraging them to play a part of a productive family life.

“This is where they learn responsibility,” Bastianich says. “They can learn so much if you, as a parent, bring them to the source.”