By the Book: Peter Gethers Talks About ‘My Mother’s Kitchen’

"My Mothers Kitchen" and author Peter Gethers
"My Mothers Kitchen" and author Peter Gethers, Photo: Michael Luppino

Do you remember Judy Gethers? If you call yourself a foodie you should, especially if you were calling yourself a foodie shortly after Gael Greene coined that term in 1980. Gethers was a remarkable woman who launched a stellar food career when she was in her 50s. She was an inspiration to many, especially her son, Sag Harbor author Peter Gethers.

My Mother’s Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and the Meaning of Life is Peter Gethers’ heart-felt tribute to his mother. In Mrs. Gethers’s last years, Peter Gethers sought to learn from her—about her favorite foods and what they meant to her. This book traces his journey into the past and into his own kitchen. He dutifully tries to recreate some of his mother’s favorite dishes.

Though Judy Gethers’ family owned and ran the famous Ratner’s restaurants in New York, she was not a cook from an early age. She always appreciated and enjoyed food, but not until she was a Californian housewife at midlife did she get serious in the kitchen. She happened into an internship and the rest, as they say, is history. Professional teaching gigs, cookbook deals and world travel enriched her life and the lives of her many fans.

As Peter Gethers told Dan’s Papers, “I had no regrets when my mother died. I think that’s an important lesson for all parents and children to learn. Be truthful and honest and caring—it’s a two-way street. And if navigated properly there will be no regrets on either side.”

You can meet Peter Gethers and hear him read from this moving book on Saturday, June 10 (details below).

Do you feel closer to your mother after completing the book?
I grew incredibly close to my mother during the process of writing this book. I cooked for her and we talked about everything under the sun—her life, my life, her marriage, even her encroaching death. During this whole process she was amazingly inspiring. And incredibly funny, even towards the very end. So it’s not exactly that I feel closer to her now that I finished writing—it’s that this process allowed me to have absolutely no regrets about our relationship. I can only look back on her life now and smile and feel inspired.

What do you think would have made her most proud about this book?
I think she would have been most proud of the fact that I was extremely honest about her and our family. My mother took great pride in her own honesty and she valued it in other people. The older she got, the more she saw life through a very realistic lens and I think she would have been very proud at the accuracy of my portrayal of her.

What part of this book is most difficult to read aloud?
That’s a great question because I’m a crier. It doesn’t take much. Sometimes when I’m reading the book aloud I will cry at something that I probably shouldn’t, but I do because it sparks a certain memory. When I read the parts about my father. There are many moments in this book that are very emotional for me so I hate to admit this, but I cry throughout my entire readings. What’s interesting to me is that I’m not really crying out of grief because my mother led such a wonderful life and she lived for so long and died in such an incredibly dignified way that I don’t really feel grief. What I feel is a void because the world is a lesser place without her. I think that’s why I tear up. One of the great things about food is that it creates such specific sense memories. Reading this book aloud has the same affect on me.

What are some of your favorite passages to read aloud?
I love reading about Louise Trotty, a woman who helped raise me. I include her recipe for chocolate pudding in the book, and I love reading the parts about her as a person. I also love reading the part about re-creating Louise’s chocolate pudding and sharing it with my 93-year-old mother.

What are some places on the East End that you used to visit with your mother?
We used to have my mother’s birthday party every year at Starr Boggs restaurant in Westhampton. My mom was crazy about Starr and the restaurant. The final chapter in my book has to do with her birthday parties there. She loved Sag Harbor in general and we hit all the restaurants in town over the years. She actually really liked Bay Burger a lot. She always made a point of going into Sylvester’s and buying things. And she loved, loved, loved the various fruit and vegetable stands all over the East End. At the end of her birthday weekend, toward the end of August, I had to take her to several stands so she could bring tomatoes and other things back to the city. And she always took back a bucket of Cromer’s fried chicken.

What recipes from the book have you been using in your Sag Harbor kitchen lately?
Many of them. We did Yotam Ottolenghi’s quail. And Joel Robuchon’s mashed potatoes. And Louise Trotty’s chocolate pudding. I make the Sicilian pasta on a regular basis, all year long.

What might your next book be about?
Hopefully it will be a book about taking long naps because that’s pretty much all I long for these days. Seriously, I haven’t given it a thought. I’m re-writing a screenplay at the moment and somewhere in the very back of my mind I’m toying with the idea of doing a children’s book.

Author Peter Gethers reads from his latest book My Mother’s Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and the Meaning of Life on Saturday, June 10 at 5 p.m. at BookHampton, 41 Main Street, East Hampton,, 631-324-4939.

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