With Mother’s Day approaching on Sunday, SFGATE asked Bay Area chefs about how their mothers influenced their culinary upbringing. Look for more upcoming features this week through Sunday that highlight the maternal mentors of some of the area’s most well-known restaurateurs.

Through the comforting ritual of simmering home-cooked meals on a stovetop, as the pleasant sounds of bubbling pots and welcome aromas fill the kitchen with such warmth — cooking becomes an extension of a mother’s love for her family.

With each spoonful, favored recipes not only have the power to conjure childhood memories, but they can also transport mom back to cherished moments when little hands helped peel potatoes and fava beans decades ago.

For Josefina Simon, the easiest way to revisit her time living in Lima, Peru, a country where she raised six children, is through a hearty pot of beef stew. Simon happens to be the mother of chef Carlos Altamirano, a man known for highlighting his Peruvian roots across seven restaurants throughout the Bay Area.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.


Courtesy La Costanera

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.


Courtesy La Costanera

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.


Courtesy La Costanera


Some of the dishes available at La Costanera. (Courtest La Costanera)

Simon said eating beef was considered a luxury in her community, so it was a dish reserved for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays.

“My family loved when I would cook estofado de carne (beef stew),” Simon told SFGATE. “They knew that when I brought carrots, potatoes and English peas from the market, it was going to be a special dinner because those are some of the main ingredients of the dish. To this day, they still love it when I make this dish. It is my favorite because it reminds me of their childhood.”

As the mother of a decorated chef, she said she’s proud of her son and all he’s accomplished since leaving Peru. La Costanera is Altamirano’s Michelin-recognized establishment that overlooks the Pacific harbor in Half Moon Bay.

The exterior of the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

The exterior of the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“As a mom, I think it’s important to embrace and support your children’s passions,” Simon said. “Carlos showed a passion for cooking at a young age, and I made sure he knew that if this is what he wanted to do in life, then he should pursue it and also work hard for it.”


The ambition Simon instilled in all of her children was a driving factor behind Altamirano’s successes. Besides La Costanera, he also operates tapas and ceviche hot spots such as Mochica in Potrero Hill, Piqueos in Bernal Heights and Parada in Walnut Creek, among others.

His legacy as a restaurateur over the past 18 years is a testament to his push to succeed in a country he saw as one filled with opportunity, a place where he could his genuine love for cooking, further develop by his mother through simple lessons in the kitchen that would later lay the foundation of his culinary empire.

The interior of the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

The interior of the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“I was her helper in the kitchen all the way, because as a son, she taught me a lot about cooking. I’m one of the only brothers that she picked like, ‘OK, you are going to stay in the home and help me today. You’re going to peel fava beans or English peas or peel potatoes,’” said Altamirano, sitting at a neatly set table inside La Costanera. “I was that kid for my mom. So that’s why she’s very attached to me in the way of cooking experience.”

‘Beautiful, aromatic, tasty food’

A cascade of windows line the restaurant’s second floor dining room with lovely views of small boats slowly bobbing in the nearby marina. Altamirano, with jet black hair combed straight back, wears a warm smile as he talks about Peruvian food. His beaming enthusiasm comes through in many ways, from the manner he describes just how precisely he plates a dish to his wide-eyed demeanor when discussing the upcoming fresh corn and artichoke season.

Chef Carlos Altamirano shows off the kitchen at his Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Chef Carlos Altamirano shows off the kitchen at his Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“I’m excited. When the summer comes, I’m going to use a lot of corn. Last season, we started fresh corn on the cob, locally,” he said. “I created a nice butter for that: chimichurri butter. So you grill it, just like that, when it comes out you brush it with the chimichurri butter, you cut it and then you go with a little mix of cheese, our sauces and then dig in!”

He slaps his hands together with such energy, truly inspired by the possibilities of roasted corn slathered in herbaceous chimichurri butter. For Altamirano, cooking with the bounty of seasonal ingredients from surrounding farms in Half Moon Bay all the way to Atascadero is akin to cooking with his mother as a boy in Peru, where they chickens and utilized what was available at the local market.

There are many staple Peruvian ingredients Altamirano leans on across all of his Bay Area restaurants, starting with the chiles such as aji amarillo and rocoto, humble starches like potatoes and rice, followed by herbs like cilantro and mint. But huacatay, a black mint used in many Peruvian dishes, is one of his favorites.

Chef Carlos Altamirano shows off some ahi amarillo Peruvian chilies he uses with stews he creates at his Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif.  on April 12, 2022.
Chef Carlos Altamirano shows off some ahi amarillo Peruvian chilies he uses with stews he creates at his Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif. on April 12, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

A cook prepares some seafood at the Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif.  on April 12, 2022.
A cook prepares some seafood at the Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif. on April 12, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

A line cook prepares some lamb at the Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif.  on April 12, 2022.
A line cook prepares some lamb at the Peruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif. on April 12, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

A look at the kitchen of thePeruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif.  on April 12, 2022.
A look at the kitchen of thePeruvian restaurant La Costenera in Half Moon Bay Calif. on April 12, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE


(Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)

“It’s a very unique herb. You can make a sauce with it. You can throw it in a soup, just like that, or you can make a chimichurri with it,” he said. “The aroma is very, very strong, pero when you do something with it — it turns into beautiful, aromatic, tasty food.”

It’s one of the many ingredients Altamirano uses for his restaurants’ most popular green sauce called ocopa, one he said is very traditional from Peru.

“The way my mom used to make it is cilantro, mint and huacatay. Blend it with some queso fresco, a little bit of toasted corn, we call cancha maiz, and then a little bit of milk,” he described, throwing ingredients one by one into an invisible blender. “Blend it, and then it turns into this green sauce, but it’s a very, very Peruvian dish. You can use it with dipping, you can eat it with rice. It’s so good.”

‘When I came to America, it was a dream’

Altamirano moved to San Francisco in 1994 and started working in restaurants throughout his early 20s, but never forgetting the home-cooked dishes that first inspired his passion for cooking. As he worked his way through the ranks of respected Bay Area kitchens, Altamirano learned from renowned chefs such as Reed Hearon from Restaurant Lulu and Rose Pistola, and Bradley Ogden of One Market Restaurant.

“Back at Lulu, Reed, my mentor, he taught me not just about being a chef, but also about being a manager, a server, and throughout the years, I learned a lot,” Altamirano said. “As a restaurateur, you have to know all of that. He brought me up from scratch, basically, and taught me everything that I know.”

In January 2004, Altamirano opened his first restaurant, Mochica, on Harrison Street in San Francisco, blending his fine dining experience with his mother’s Peruvian recipes. San Francisco diners gobbled up chicharron pollo (crispy chicken marinated in lime juice with chile rocoto aioli) during happy hour, and savored every spoonful of aji de gallina and lomo saltado for dinner, two of his favorite childhood dishes.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.

Some of the dishes available at the Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay.

Courtesy La Costanera

Mochica was such a success, it expanded into a larger space a decade later in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. Now, Altamirano operates seven restaurants with more than 200 employees, some who’ve worked for the chef since Mochica first opened in 2004.

“When I came to America, it was a dream. So when I give a check to my employee, I feel so happy because they might feed their family with that,” he said. “I’m just the kind of chef that I’m happy when I pay them or when they get the check for the family, for the wife, for the kid for school, and they’re happy.”

It’s a point of pride for Altamirano, who sits up straight from his dining room seat. He said there’s no better feeling than cultivating young talent, encouraging his chefs’ creativity and instilling the values ​​his mentors taught him throughout his career.

Chef Carlos Altamirano poses in front of a Peru flag at his Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Chef Carlos Altamirano poses in front of a Peru flag at his Peruvian restaurant La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on April 12, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Still, whenever he walks into his restaurants and the chefs are simmering aji de gallina, his mother’s comforting, creamy chicken stew in large pots on commercial stoves, the aromas and homey feelings it evokes are ones that transport Altamirano back to a time when he would help mom peel potatoes in their kitchen in Lima.

“I still remember when my mom used to cook when I was a little kid back home in Peru, and she always made soup. Soup was part of our life,” he said. “When I come to the restaurant in the kitchen and I see they’re making the aji de gallina, I say, ‘I was there in Peru when my mom used to teach me how to make the aji de gallina.’ It turns out to be like this yellow, creamy chicken stew. I love aji de gallina. It’s so good.”

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