Our own Michele Laudig needs no introduction.
What is the best dish your mother ever made?
I'm obsessed with her lasagna and always use her recipe, which has sweet Italian sausage in the sauce. She also makes the best filled chocolate cupcakes from scratch. They're labor-intensive -- you have to melt the chocolate and add a little sour milk and individually cut holes in the cupcakes for the cooked filling - but she knows how much I love them.
What is the worst dish your mother ever made?
I want to say shad roe, except the notion of eating fish eggs used to freak me out so much that I probably never even took a bite of it. I also couldn't stand rumaki (bacon-wrapped chicken livers). Obviously these had to do with my own hangups, not Mom's talents at the stove.
Tell us your earliest memory of going out to eat with your family.
We used to go with my grandparents to this little Italian restaurant where there was always a wait, and the owner would treat you like a celebrity when you walked in. He'd kiss all the ladies' hands and make a big fuss. I'd order a Shirley Temple and spaghetti and meatballs. Mom says I first went there when I was still in the womb.
How has your mother influenced you as a cook?
Thanks to her, I'm adventurous. She was so permissive when I wanted to experiment in the kitchen as a kid, and encouraged me to taste new things, especially seafood (Mom and Dad used to own a seafood shop). She also took up cooking Greek food after she got remarried, which taught me that it's never too late to expand your skills. Her spanakopita rocks.
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What is one thing you do differently than your mom, when it comes to food?
I eat many more exotic and ethnic foods, but only because I'm fortunate enough to have access to so many things in the city. She's open-minded and gets a kick out going to restaurants with me when she visits Arizona.
What is your mom's favorite dish?
Mom loves anything with blue crab, like crabcakes, crab-stuffed flounder, or crabmeat meltaways. Her homemade crabcakes are up there with lasagna among my favorite foods.