Award-winning chef and TV cooking competition champ honors his mum
Madison Cowan is an award-winning chef, author and producer who has earned titles from several TV competitions, including "Chopped," "Iron Chef America" and "No Kitchen Required." He credits much of his success to his stepmom, Annie Jean Johnson (Cowan), who he calls Mum.
"She had a significant hand in my upbringing and shaping me," Cowan says. "Life was extremely hard when I was out in the world on my own, traveling from country to country, trying to figure out what I was meant to do exactly. You really just need to talk with someone who cares, knows you best, and loves you no matter what. For me, that was my mum."
Cowan was born in England, but grew up in Detroit with his dad and Mum, an American with Southern roots who taught him to cook, clean and sew. "She was a phenomenal cook, and imparted her basic foundations of cooking to me," Cowan says.
Returning to England as a young man, Cowan used his mum's lessons as the executive chef of Ashbells in London's West End — an upscale eatery known for classic American comfort and soul food. "I rang my mum to ask if she recalled that certain ingredient that made her cornbread special, and she was only too happy to share her recipe," Cowan says. That and other dishes helped earn Cowan a 4-star rating from The Sunday Times
It was well known that Mum would often feed anyone who came to her door, including the local police, who called her house the "mini station" and would regularly check on her while patrolling the area.
"She'd serve them fresh, smoked turkey sandwiches and her famous sweet potato pie," Cowan says. "They weren't cops when round my mum's house; they were human beings who saw their mothers and nans in my mum. You checked your status at the door, and all were welcome at her table."
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When Cowan's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Mum served as his faithful caregiver for 15 years before he died at age 72. Unfortunately, this wouldn't be Cowan's only loss to Alzheimer's. His father-in-law died from the disease in Denmark, and his daughter's obachan
(grandmother) in Japan died of dementia at age 69. Then in 2013, Mum received an advanced dementia diagnosis.
"My sister, Sheryl, graciously retired early as a decorated police officer to be our mum's primary caregiver. Every time I'd ring, Sheryl would pass Mum the phone and she was very excited at first, then she'd suddenly trail off, with some words becoming unrecognizable," Cowan says.
Mum died from the disease on April 3, 2021, at 90 years old.
"Unfortunately there's nothing to reverse this disease at present. Nonetheless, you carry on loving them each moment of every day," Cowan says. "When I cook, I cook with my mum in mind, and that's from a place of love."
Cuban Mahi-Mahi with Black Bean Sauce, Cilantro Butter and Easy Sweet Potato Mash
4 tablespoons unsalted organic butter, softened
Large pinch of fresh cilantro, chopped
6 mahi-mahi filets, fresh or frozen
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 limes, zested
2 large sweet potatoes
For the sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 fresh thyme sprig (or ½ teaspoon dry thyme)
1 cup vegetable stock or water
Splash of red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cold butter
¼ cup unbleached flour
1 tin organic black beans, rinsed and drained
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Mash the butter in a bowl and stir in the cilantro. Spoon onto cling film, then wrap and roll into a tube shape. Twist the ends and refrigerate until ready for use.
Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry. Combine the next eight ingredients in a large bowl, add the fish and massage in the seasoning. Wrap the bowl with cling film and refrigerate.
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the olive oil and sauté the shallots, garlic and thyme until soft, about 2 minutes.
Next, add the stock to the saucepan along with the vinegar and soy sauce. Roll the cold butter in the flour to coat and whisk into the sauce until smooth. Stir in the beans and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until slightly thickened then remove from heat.
Heat a grill or sauté pan over medium high heat or set the broiler to medium and cook the fish until golden on one side, about 3 minutes. Using tongs or a spatula, flip the fish and cook for another 2 minutes. If necessary, give the fish a little shake with the tongs to loosen from the grill.
Reheat the sauce, plate the fish and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with a lime cheek and a slice of cilantro butter on top.
For easy sweet potato mash
Wash and score sweet potatoes with a small paring knife, lightly rub with olive oil, and roast on a lined sheet tray at 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until soft. Remove potatoes from the oven, cool slightly, slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Stir in a pinch of salt.