Manu Feildel.

Manu Feildel may be a celebrated chef, but he admits his "maman" will always cook a better apple tart than he can.

"I can't cook a tarte tatin (apple tart) as well as my mum," the Frenchman says.

"I've asked her to show me how to do it, many, many times. It's one of those things that's done by eye, there's no recipe as such.

"She just puts the sugar bit by bit, then knows the right time to put the butter then she puts the apple when the butter turns the right colour - she just knows, plus she does it with a short-crust pastry, which is the right way to do it, not with puff pastry."

Feildel is just one of many celebrities who have contributed to a new book, At My Mother's Knee, which looks at the role mothers have played in moulding a love of food or just sharing all-time favourite family recipes.

Australia's mother of cooking, Margaret Fulton, has shared her own mother's recipe for Dundee Cake, which has been passed down to the next generations of the Fulton family.

Fulton's favourite recipes include many Country Women's Association baking delights ranging from lamingtons and bread and butter pudding to good old-fashioned staples such as Irish stew and corned beef.

Dancing with the Stars contestant Kerri-Anne Kennerley admits she didn't grow up with gourmet cooking but it was healthy. She laughs when she remembers "Carpetbag" steak - steak stuffed with oysters - or her favourite birthday treat, frangipani pie.

With top Australian chefs including Adriano Zumbo and Tetsuya Wakuda, and actor/restaurateur George Houvardas, the recipe book is a mix of cultures.

Then there are celebrities such as Lisa Wilkinson and Blue Wiggle, Anthony Field who also re-live their home-cooked meals.

The strongest theme throughout At My Mother's Knee is just how our mother's cooking stays with us through the years.

As Feildel says, in Europe especially, mothers are the key to recipes being passed down from generation to generation and responsible for keeping food traditions alive.

Feildel's mother Evelyne lives in the north-west of France near Lorient and comes out to Australia every couple of years to visit her son.

The chef, who is a recognisable face as a judge on Seven Network's My Kitchen Rules, says a love of food runs deep in the Feildel family.

"My mother's father was a chef and my mother's mother was a great, great cook as well, and my mum married my father, who is a chef as well," he says.

"Food was always around."

Apart from the tart tatin, Feildel's favourite recipe from his mother is endive au jambon (witlof and ham bake) and cauliflower soup.

"I remember winters just begging for cauliflower soup. We used to eat bowls and bowls of it with fresh baguette and creme fraiche melting into it," says Feildel.

"I hate winter because it's cold, but when you go home and there is stew on the stove, perfuming the whole house, yum, with crusty bread."

Like many chefs Feildel is always happy to return to his mother's home and let her cook.

"It's funny, some recipes are music - music that you heard 20 or 30 years ago and you still love and it takes you back to places and to times," he says.

So when it comes to his tarte tatin, what would his mother say? "Not too bad," he reckons.

RECIPE: Gratin d'Endives au Jambon (Witlof & Ham Bake)
Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Serves 4

4 witlof (Belgian endive)
1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
60g butter
1 medium brown onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chicken stock
4 slices (90g) leg ham
50g gruyere cheese, grated

Bechamel sauce:
30g butter
1/4 cup (35g) plain flour
2 cups (500ml) milk
pinch ground nutmeg
50g gruyere cheese, grated

1. Remove outer leaves from witlof; chop leaves finely. Reserve whole and chopped witlof, separately.

2. Melt butter in medium frying pan over medium heat. Add whole witlof, in single layer, sprinkle with sugar and season with salt and pepper; cook witlof until browned lightly on all sides. Add onion, garlic, stock and chopped witlof leaves. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, over low heat about 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 180C.

4. Remove witlof from pan; drain on absorbent paper.

5. Meanwhile, make bechamel sauce.

6. Pour half the bechamel sauce into medium shallow ovenproof dish. Roll a slice of ham around each witlof; place in dish. Pour remaining sauce over witlof; sprinkle with cheese.

7. Bake witlof about 20 minutes or until golden.

Bechamel sauce:
Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add flour and whisk mixture 2 minutes until well combined. Gradually add milk, whisking mixture to avoid any lumps. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper; cook, whisking constantly, 10 minutes. Stir in cheese.

The West Australian

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