Dear Mom: 4 Bay Area chef origin stories that tie back to maternal figures

By Sarah Fritsche

Jordan Keao is working on a new project at his Dogpatch restaurant, ‘Aina (900 22nd St.): Enlarging a photograph of his mother, Leilani, and her professional hula troupe. The picture, which was taken in the mid-’90s when the troupe competed at the Merrie Monarch Festival — a.k.a. the Olympics of hula dancing — will be displayed above the entrance.

Keao, who grew up on the Big Island, recalls his mother making pepper jellies and jams to sell at the farmers’ market. He credits her for teaching him about traditional dishes and techniques, like using kiawe wood to smoke meats.

“She was the one who taught me how to make what I’m making now; to shoot for the flavor I’m shooting for,” says Keao of his mother, who moved in with him and his family last year after the birth of his daughter.

“Hopefully (guests) get to walk away with not just knowing more about me as a chef, but where I come from and where I grew up.”