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Chef Panel: What Was Your Favorite Food When you Were a Kid?

Childhood favorites with the Chef Panel

When you think back to your favorite childhood eats, what comes to mind? Classic homemade spaghetti and meatballs, sugary cereals with a prize inside, and anything chocolate drums up a bit of nostalgia for us. With school back in session (it starts earlier every year), we decided to send our Chef Panel back to their schoolyard days. We asked this trove of toques: What was your favorite food when you were a kid and do you still eat it now? From tuna casserole to mac ‘n’ cheese (and even escargot), here are our chefs’ favorite childhood dishes.

Del Frisco's Lobster Mac and Cheese

The ultimate comfort food | Photo credit: Del Frisco’s

“As a kid, I loved mac and cheese, along with a chocolate milkshake. Now as an adult, I still love these items, but my tastes have grown up and luckily I can still enjoy these items at Dels. I now have the delicious Lobster Mac and Cheese with a filet Oscar-style and cap it off with a Del’s Delight milkshake that is made with a splash of crème de cacao and vanilla liqueur.” —Mario Hernandez, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

“I spent a small part of my childhood in Albuquerque; our house there had an apricot tree in the backyard. As far back as I can remember, I always loved the flavor and texture of apricots. To this day, they are still my favorite food. My favorite dish, however, is Chinese hot pot—one of the best dining experiences you can have, in my opinion. The process of cooking and serving friends and family, centered around a boiling cauldron of stock, is a simple idea but it’s a meal that creates memories.” Russell Stippich, The Nickel

“Indonesian pork saté with peanut sauce! My mom was born in Indonesia and her native food was a staple at our house growing up. The pork is marinated in ketjap manis, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, and sambal olec for 24 hours. It is then skewered, grilled, and topped off with Indonesian-style peanut sauce. It literally turns into pork candy. I still have my mom make it for me every time she visits! —Merlin Verrier, Next Door

“Bologna sandwich with white bread and mustard—I remember my folks always used to buy Plochman’s mustard. It’s a simple yellow mustard. I also used to have Chef Boyardee ravioli out of a can regularly. I still enjoy a bologna sandwich from time and time and I would not skip Chef Boyardee if it was put in front of me.” —Jason Ganahl, GQue BBQ

“Beef stroganoff—and yes I still love it today.” —Dustin Barrett, Tables

“My favorite dish was shrimp cocktail! I only had it when I would visit my grandmother and go to her club where they had the biggest buffet you have ever seen.  All I would eat was shrimp. I grew up in New Mexico, and we literally never had seafood ever as a kid. I loved it and I still do!” —Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly

“I grew up on fish sticks out of a box from the freezer. I still love them, but now I cook an updated fried fish taco at Lola that is killer. We do the fried mahi in beer batter, add smoked serrano aïoli to the griddled tortilla, and top it off with our seasonal veggie kimchee (which we call kimchito). Delicious, and never frozen.” —Jamey Fader, LOLA Mexican Fish House

Steve's Snappin Dogs

We can see why hot dogs are a favorite … | Photo credit: Steve’s Snappin Dogs

“I started eating Oscar Meyer and graduated to the local hot dog stand called Ligourie’s in Monroe, Connecticut when I was eight or nine. At 14, I worked for them for $1 an hour and the rest is history! I guess if you fulfill your dream as a kid and open up your own hot dog stand as an adult, it doesn’t get better than that!” —Steve Ballas, Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs

“When I was a kid, I loved eating barbecue teriyaki spare ribs on steamed white rice with butter and soy. Simple, fresh, delicious. Two more favorites are the childhood standbys of mac ‘n’ cheese and peanut butter and jelly. My kids love those both, but I don’t eat any of those anymore.” —Troy Guard, Mister Tuna, TAG, Guard & Grace (and other concepts)

“My mom used to make a macaroni casserole with sausage, cheese, onion, and cream of celery soup. I still make it every now and again.” —Dory Ford, Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge

“Roast chicken, rice, and veggies! I still love it—simple and hearty. Hopefully, there are some roasting juices that can soak into the rice!” —Alec Schuler, Arugula and Tangerine

Rewind Escargots

Escargot for kids?

Super picky but I loved escargot! Still do!” —Mark Ferguson, Solitaire

“As a child, my favorite dish was fideo with Dad’s green chile. Fideo is made with vermicelli noodles that are sautéed in a red chile sauce (Mexican spaghetti) but when Dad made his green chile, all was right in the world. I eat them still to this day and, of course, I’ve added them into my repertoire.” —Randy Savala, The Fort Restaurant

“My favorite dish as a kid in the Midwest was my mom’s tuna noodle casserole. It was canned tuna, rotini noodles, and cream of mushroom soup. At home, I still love to eat that kind of dish, but in the restaurant, I go a different route. Putting a twist on a classic dish is one of my favorite things to do because it gives the guest a chance to revisit their childhood while using better ingredients. A great revamp on tuna noodle casserole for the restaurant would be fresh seared tuna, housemade egg noodles (such as pappardelle), sautéed wild mushroom, and shallots with a light white wine cream sauce and fried capers on top.” —James Doxon, Tstreet Roadhouse

“One of my mother’s favorite things to cook was spaghetti and meatballs, I still cook it once a month at home for my immediate and extended family. Our secret ingredient is anchovies in the meatball mix. We have adapted a dish at Volario’s in Winter Park and now offer spaghetti and one giant meatball stuffed with mozzarella.” —Evan TreadwellDevil’s Thumb Ranch and Volario

“It has to be spaghetti and meatballs! It’s become so personal as time goes by. The meatballs need veal, pork, and beef and should be fried lightly in olive oil before joining the sauce. And the sauce should use San Marzano tomatoes or any fresh variety from your garden—a must! I have had meatball throwdowns in many of my kitchens. I foresee one at The Sink in the near future!” —Mark Gordon, The Sink

“I used to love Steak Ems. I would pan-cook them with pepper and garlic salt and put them on a toasted roll with mustard. There is NO way I would eat them today. I caught myself recently looking in the frozen section to see if they still made them … I didn’t see them.” —Aniedra Nichols, Fish N Beer

Lao Wang

We can never say no to dumplings.

“Dumplings! My mom was an eastern religions professor and I vividly remember my parents hosting these epic dinners with her colleagues. Many of the folks were from China and had been taught by their grandmothers how to make dumplings, noodles, and many other traditional dishes. As a kid, getting to stay up and watch the handmade noodles and dumplings be formed, filled, and cooked was a very special treat. Getting to partake in the devouring was the icing on the top. As an adult now, with a daughter of my own, it is so much fun to continue the tradition of dumpling love. On special occasions, we clear off the dining room table, prepare bowlfuls of filling, and make way too many dumplings. My love for dumplings is as strong now as ever. No trip to a new city is complete without a search for THE dumpling house!” —Dakota Soifer, Cafe Aion

“I always loved pizza, and, well, I guess I still do …” —Pam Proto, Proto’s Pizza

“Chicken Pipian. I could never get enough as a kid and I crave it to this very day. Pipian is a classic Mexican pumpkin seed sauce, also known as green mole. It is tangy, herbal, and spicy all at the same time. It is great for any season.” —Efren Velasquez, La Loma

“My mom would make linguini with clam sauce when I was a kid, and it is still one of my favorite food memories. It was one of my dad’s favorites, too, and now I make my own version of her original and make it for my family. So yes—I still love it!” —Dan Kane, Del Frisco’s Grille

The DiningOut (DO) Chef Panel serves as the voice of culinary talent in Denver, Boulder, and beyond. These 70-plus chefs answer our burning questions about the local dining scene, cooking, and food trends on a monthly basis.

Curated by Morgan Carter, Editor