Life Lessons from my Mamas' Kitchens
by Johnny Tan

     The kitchen is the perfect setting for family laughter, reminiscing with friends, and sharing experiences. Multigenerational conversations about relationships, life, and happiness are nourished more easily in this warm and supportive environment. Timeless recipes for living, taught lovingly in the kitchen, offer the key ingredients needed for a lifetime of success.

Adopted at birth in Melaka, Malaysia, my first 18 years were guided by my adoptive mother, Nyah. One lesson she taught me was that everyone possesses a seed of greatness. She believed this seed was the key to success in life. The essence of this seed allows our dreams, goals and wishes to develop. Her wisdom gave birth to a lifetime of inspiration for me.

At 19, while attending college at Louisiana State University, I received the news of my father's sudden passing. The timing of his death produced both emotional trauma and a financial crisis that set a new course for my life. I was not able to return to Malaysia again for 15 years. During this time, while living on my own in Baton Rouge, I began the journey of meeting my eight other moms, one at a time over the next 18 years.

The timing of these wonderful women appearing in my life was God-sent. These ladies guided my soul and nourished my heart. They were my teachers, coaches, and counselors, always available to listen to my ideas and console me during times of need. Most of my nine moms have since passed away, but each of them left me with timeless recipes for living that collectively formed the basis of my success.

Coming to America at a young age was a dream come true for me. I was eager to embrace every aspect of the culture. My excitement to assimilate into my new surroundings was bolstered by my host family and Southern belle mom, Eleanora Carter. She educated me with what I needed to know in order to blend into the community. Thanks to her, I learned proper etiquette and manners, adding to what I already knew from my years growing up in Malaysia. Eleanora taught me that, although a warm and engaging personality may open doors, it is one's character that will keep the doors open.

A consummate perfectionist, I had a tendency to keep my one-track mind always focused on business. My disposition stood in stark contrast to the personality of my sanguine Savannah mom, Toni Winters, when we first met. Always happy with a carefree attitude, she taught me how to live each day with gusto. Her self-assured personality convinced me to try new experiences. Toni made me laugh and lighten up by sharing this wonderful recipe for living, "Live like there is no tomorrow; however, always plan that you will have another day to live."

Being single with time to spare, I possessed the perfect credentials for my friend Vickie. She couldn't wait to have me join her dancing group. Through her, I met my ballroom dance instructor mom, Betty Tamas. A professional instructor for over 30 years, Betty was a gifted communicator. She was a natural at conveying brief motivational messages to her students. One evening, I struggled to keep focus on my dance steps. My mind was distracted by a challenging day. She whispered to me, "Dancing with heart and passion creates a lifetime of bliss in a three-and-a-half-minute song." With a big smile she continued, "Do you remember how you felt when you were dancing with Carrie last Saturday? You two looked great and were glowing as you danced around the floor." Betty reminded me to be deeply engaged in the moment. Since that evening, I have applied Betty's advice whenever I find myself struggling or distracted by multi-tasking.

A beekeeper by day and a ballroom dancer by night, my Cajun mom, Ginger White, is the most lighthearted person I know. She believes humor is essential in our daily lives, and uses it to respond positively to challenging situations. Her signature beautiful smile can light up any room and change any difficult situation into an inspiring one. Ginger taught me, "The natural life can always be funny and humorous. The most ordinary events usually end up being the sweetest memories. When we pay attention during the small moments, we will realize and appreciate the happiness when it happens." Incorporating a touch of humor into everything I do has added a new dimension to my life.

Though I no longer have the luxury of sharing delicious home-cooked meals in the company of my surrogate family members, the love and wisdom gifted to me from my mothers' kitchens have nourished me for a lifetime. Johnny Tan is a talk show host, professional keynote speaker, award-winning and bestselling author, and founder of From My Mama's Kitchen. For more information about Johnny, visit: