For this year’s Reader Key Ingredient Cook-Off, we asked some of Chicago’s top chefs to create a dish to honor a person who influenced their cooking. The exercise stirred many kitchen memories.

Chef: Diana Dávila

Restaurant: Mi Tocaya Antojería

Fried oyster taco on a squid ink tortilla with salsa borracha

Mentor: Giuseppe Tentori, chef at Boka, GT Fish & Oyster, and GT Prime

“I really liked Boka, and when I heard [Tentori] took over, I was like, ‘I have to go over there.’ I knocked on the door. He said, ‘All right, we’ll set up a stage.’ They were grooming me to be the sous chef, and my husband got a promotion and we moved to D.C. I was so sad. One thing I really liked is the marrying between the front and back of the house. He’s just like, ‘Listen, motherfuckers, this is hospitality. Food is the expression, but the whole thing is hospitality.’ I really love the way he interacts with not only the guests but also the front of the house. Bring your friends, bring your family, you guys are welcome here. They know how to build a family.

“I have a story where [Tentori] threw a fucking scallop at my face. Three times. It was my fault—I overcooked them. So my husband was like, ‘You should do something with a scallop [for the cook-off].’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, it might be too much.’ [Tentori] makes a mean fucking fish taco. My two favorite fish tacos in the city are his and my friend Ricky [Ortiz] from Antique [Taco]. I thought I’d do a fried oyster taco on a squid ink tortilla with lime mayonesa and spring garlic. It has salsa borracha, drunken salsa—had to keep some Mi Tocaya in there.”   v

Dávila’s dish was the Key Ingredient Cook-Off critic’s pick.