Celebrated Chef Angie Mar Of New York City's The Beatrice Inn On Lessons Learnt From Her Father
My mother is from Taipei but grew up part of the time in Oxford, England, so between her and my Chinese‑American father, our dinner table was a mixed bag of East meets West. One night we would have steamed bass with scallions and soy or chicken hearts with black bean sauce, and the next it would be shepherd’s pie, a T-bone steak or, on weekends, prime rib. But no matter what, there was always something steamed.
My father is one of the biggest influences in my life. He was kind and thoughtful and fierce in his love for his children and his family. He came up in the kitchen, working in my auntie’s restaurant, the inimitable Ruby Chow’s. He washed dishes alongside Bruce Lee and shook hands with Warren Magnuson, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr. He understood the long hours, the minuscule pay, the glitz and glory that are portrayed when the curtain goes up, and the grit and gusto it takes backstage to make it happen. He became a father figure to many of the people who knew him over the years, whether family or not—helping them stay in school, teaching them how to drive, coaching their basketball teams and bailing them out when they were in a bind.
My father was such a strategist that I didn’t even realise that he played the long game until I was much older—when I could recognise it and learn from it myself. He’d often sit at the dinner table and tease one of us mercilessly until the other siblings joined in, but just when you thought you could tease your little brother without repercussion, he’d turn the tables on you instead, laughing endlessly at his own joke. It taught us to be quick-witted and on our toes, as he seemed to always get the better of us.
My brothers, Conrad and Chad, are everything to me, and God help any woman who crosses either of them. We grew up with such a sense of loyalty that sometimes I wonder if those teachings backfired on my mother and father, as we’d sooner die than rat each other out. Even today, we are in each other’s corner—they designed my website, menus and business cards, practising what my father preached to us so long ago. They come to my events when I am travelling and are always the first to cheer me on—and to put me in my place. When people ask me what I made as a young cook, they never hesitate to put me on blast and tease me about the time I made a smoked salmon dip the colour of Pepto-Bismol.
Our parents separated when I was 14; it was an incredibly hard time for the three of us. We understood why it was happening, but we all felt a bit lost in the shuffle. I took on the responsibility of raising my brothers, and much of the basis for my cooking was to take care of them when my parents were going through their divorce. We stuck together through thick and thin, just as we had been taught. Although the three of us now live in different cities, we are closer than ever.
My father always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if my dreams were misguided, and that meant he was bailing me out of trouble often throughout my teens and well into my 20s. He never asked for a thank-you—he only tutted in disapproval, then would sigh, tell me he loved me and warn me that I better not mess up again (which we both knew that I inevitably would).
I didn’t actually get my shit together until I moved to New York at the end of 2008. I was making minimum wage as a line cook and in culinary school full time. I couldn’t afford to take the subway let alone eat, and I honestly think that’s when my father truly got behind my career choice.
It has only occurred to me in retrospect that although my father sometimes worried about me when I decided to become a chef he found a new respect for who I am. I was no longer the girl messing up and calling him to help get her out of trouble. I was bailing myself out, as I had finally chosen a distinct path and was working to attain something. I was doing what he and his siblings had done—starting at the bottom and working my way up.
Beginning in 2015, every October he visited New York like clockwork for my annual James Beard dinner. He always requested Pat LaFrieda’s beef and a reservation at Carbone: his two favourite things in New York. The year I bought The Beatrice, I made the mistake of wanting him to eat at the restaurant every night and cancelled the reservation at Carbone. He was outraged.
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“What do you mean we’re eating your food again?” he bellowed. “I love Carbone—you know that, Angela! I’ve been eating your food all your life, and here I was excited to go to Carbone and have the lamb chops,” he complained while eating caviar from the best table at the Beatrice.
I did not make the same mistake the following year. When we returned to Carbone, he was greeted with multiple decanters of Brunello and hugs from the entire staff. “Doctor Mar, it’s so good to see you back here,” said their GM. “We already have your lamb chops on the way.”
“Well, you know, she tried to keep me away from here last year,” my father replied, pointing to me with his dry, teasing-but-actually-serious smile.
My father brought laughter and light to everyone he encountered and most of all to his family. I treasure the time he spent in New York, even when it was against his doctor’s orders because his cholesterol was high and he shouldn’t have eaten with such gusto. My brothers and I would poke fun at him for how he’d try to fool the cardiologist by moving his appointments around, lying about what he ate on his trips here, and bingeing on lettuce to attempt to counteract the effects of a long, steak‑laden weekend. He never lost his love for life and for living.
We lost my father in the spring of 2018 while I was in the midst of writing this book. I’ve included certain recipes as a tribute to him and the wonderful love of food that he gave to his children. And I’ve omitted others because I want them to remain mine and mine alone. I know he is still with me in spirit because his fingerprints are all over the Beatrice and his influence floods the pages of this book. The Sunday suppers of my childhood are here, in the prime rib, the rabbit stews and the roasted hens, and that first dish that started it all for me, the milk-braised pork shoulder. My father’s birth year is represented in the restaurant’s Madeira collection, and those bottles are some of the last of their kind in the world, including one from 1927 that contains a nearly extinct grape. But he is best represented in the way we cultivate the family housed under our roof.
My father was a naval officer in his early 20s and neither the mentality nor the discipline ever left him. The week before I opened the Beatrice, I was walking through Portobello Road in London when I found the brass sign that hangs over our kitchen. It reads: “The Captain’s Word is Law”. Many people think it refers to my absolute authority within our house, but the truth is that it’s there in my father’s honour. What I have tried to do every day is to follow his words of guidance, his examples of kindness and his innate desire to bring our family up the right way, so we could not only be good people but truly prosper together.