We all have a favorite family recipe. A home-cooked meal in which cravings never cease and memories flood back after the first bite. A meal even fine-dining restaurants couldn’t touch due to the care and love given in its execution. A meal slow-cooked for hours to ensure the rich flavors passed down from generation to generation.
Lisa Schroeder defines this type of food as “mother food,” and in 1992, she realized that the world needed a restaurant to serve this cuisine. Schroeder abandoned her marketing career and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating at the top of her class, she honed her skills in two New York City four-star restaurants and then traveled to several countries to gain understanding of regional cuisines. In 1998, she settled in Portland and filled this culinary gap in 2000 by opening Mother’s Bistro and Bar.
The mission behind the restaurant is to provide people with food that will take them back their childhood dinner table. “When a mother cooks for her family, the food is made with love,” explained Schroeder. “There are flavors in that you can’t taste in anything else.” Much more than simply comfort food, the food Schroeder serves is made from scratch, includes slow-cooked recipes, and utilizes the best available ingredients and her technical training. In 2002, Mother’s Bistro and Bar was recognized by Food and Wine Magazine as one of America’s Top Restaurant bargains. In 2004, Portland Monthly Magazine, Willamette Week, and Citysearch voted it Best Brunch.
In addition to Mother’s regular menu, Schroeder highlights a different mother each month and features some of their special dishes. They are called the Mother of the Month and their photograph, story, and menu are showcased at the beginning of the Mother’s menu. The restaurant chooses mothers whose recipes coincide with the seasons and the seasonal availability of ingredients. Often times, this allows for mothers’ recipes from all around the globe that fits what the restaurant wants to highlight that time of year. For example, Schroeder may highlight a Polish mother’s dishes during the winter season and a Jamaican mother’s dishes during the summer.
Chef Schroeder emphasizes the importance of the senses in creating and spurring memories. “Food is all the senses,” she said. One can see, taste, smell, and feel the texture of food, which allows for those memories to be even more vivid and meaningful. Through her restaurant, Schroeder provides the type of slow and careful cooking that mothers would always cook for their families if given the time and cements “mothers food” as a cuisine deserving of its very own restaurant.
If your family has special recipes you think Chef Schroeder would want on her menu, nomination forms are on the Mother’s Bistro and Bar website and in the restaurant near Tom McCall Waterfront Park.