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‘Top Chef’ contestant Joe Sasto says his late mom is ‘my whole inspiration for cooking’

By in Press Enterprise on January 4, 2018

By Sandra Barrera

Last week on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Los Angeles’ own Joe Sasto wowed the judges with a dish inspired by the stuffed cabbage his mother of French heritage used to make.

The mustachioed contestant gave it an Italian twist after his dad’s side, too.

That chicken tortelloni with farro and wild mushrooms creation was one of the judges’ top three favorites of the elimination challenge last Thursday, Dec. 28.

During the episode, Sasto said he was thinking about his mom while he worked on fusing his two backgrounds.

Sasto’s mom, Claudette, died of cancer while he was in his freshman year at UC Davis majoring in communications. Losing his mom was devastating, but the 29-year-old executive chef at the Italian restaurant Cal Mare in Beverly Hills found a way to stay connected with her memory through food.

“She’s my whole inspiration for cooking,” Sasto said, speaking by phone. “Growing up, she instilled in me that power of food, and the way that food connects people. And I realize now how much food can evoke memories.”

Big family dinners, Sunday suppers and extravagant holiday feasts were part of life in Sasto’s childhood home in Las Vegas, thanks to his mom.

She learned to cook Italian food before marrying his dad.

“She used to do Christmas cookies every year, the whole nine yards,” he said, adding meatballs and a big pot of Sunday gravy (red sauce) were staples at the table. “The only thing she kept from her French heritage was crepes.”

For the challenge, Sasto took inspiration from his mom’s chicken braised in wine with rice and cabbage.

It wasn’t his favorite.

“I never liked rice as a kid, so this was my spin on that, taking the idea of the chicken braise but then fusing it with my dad’s Italian side of the family,” Sasto said. “I wanted to […]    

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