Saturday, May 26, 2018
Human Interest

Local notables answer the question: "My mom made the best _____"

It's a simple sentence, but it can yield some intriguing answers as we approach Mother's Day. The Times asked some notable personalities simply to fill in the blank on this: "My mom always made the best ____." The natural inclination would be to answer with a flavorful dish that leads a person to harken back to their childhood like food critic Anton Ego in the Pixar classic Ratatouille. And while some of our participants did just that, others offered different takes.

Jeff Gigante

Local restaurateur (Ciccio's, Daily Eats, etc.)

... holiday table settings. She would lament over them as if she were creating a classic masterpiece, and to her they were exactly that. The more glamorous and blingy the better. You would think that the queen was coming to dinner. But to her, she never met a stranger and everyone who had the pleasure of sitting at one of her holiday tables felt like royalty. I miss her very much every day but during the holidays it's especially hard not having her buzzing about the kitchen and her table settings making sure everything is just perfect. My wife and sister have now taken over the holiday table settings and they pay such close attention to it as if Mom was going to show up and give her comments. Her legacy lives on.

Jose Moreno

Co-owner, Moreno's Bakery

... fricase de pollo. Fricase de pollo is similar to its more well-known cousin, chicken cacciatore. It has chicken, potatoes, tomato sauce, onions, garlic and is served over white rice. It's still a favorite of mine. My mother was named Carmen Gonzalez. The Spanish ladies don't change their names when they marry. The dish was one in which you had all the elements and it took time for her to prepare it. I remember her being in the kitchen peeling the potatoes and cleaning the chicken and dicing the aromatics for the sauce. I loved the smell and taste of it. She only made it when she had everything needed. Cooking in Cuba is hard. Sometimes you have green pepper to put in the black beans sometimes you don't. Sometimes you have garlic sometimes you don't. It's not like here where we can run to the store and buy what we need.

Allen Witt

Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus president

... chicken tetrazzini. Even though she was a country school teacher from the piney woods of North Florida. She got the recipe from a Campbell's Soup can during the Great Depression. "Ms. Evelyn's" tetrazzini graced the tables at church dinners, funerals and family reunions in Lake City for 50 years. I can still taste it.

Juel Smith

Founder of the USF Institute on Black Life

... Oklahoma jambalaya, with a large variety of fresh seafood. Simply delicious. Me and my four sisters caught most of the shellfish in local streams. Unfortunately, my Florida jambalaya just doesn't taste the same. Maybe it needs Oklahoma shellfish?

Eddie DeBartolo Jr.


... the best mom. She (Marie Debartolo) made the best mom in the world for me and my sister (Denise), the best wife for my father (Edward DeBartolo Sr.). She made our house a home.

Fr. Len Plazewski

Pastor, Christ the King Catholic Church

... Sunday dinners. Growing up in San Antonio, Fla., Sunday afternoons were reserved for a large family meal. The courses changed; oftentimes it was beef or pork, other times pasta or even Polish food, but it always both delicious and elegant. Whether just our immediate family or other guests, we ate in our formal dining room and discussed a wide variety of subjects all in a wonderful atmosphere of family and faith.

Elaine Shimberg

Freelance writer, philanthropist

... personalized greeting cards. She always wrote little verses on our presents. For my 10th birthday, she wrote, "She said when I'm 10 I never will yen to be older. But heaven, I'm going on 11!" I saved a number of hers but they are scattered around. I hadn't thought of them in years.

Betsy Shimberg

Secretary/treasurer, Early Childhood Council board

I said I was the best thing my mom made. But to answer the question ... she always made the best poems on our birthday cards. They would rhyme and make you feel like the most wonderful and special child anyone could ask for.

Kasey Shimberg Kelly

Community volunteer

... kids birthday parties. In the days before Chuck E. Cheese and Qzar, mom would come up with a theme and would create everything by hand around that theme: invitations, decorations, food, games. Back then you couldn't just go to a party store one-stop-shop and buy an entire themed party.

Evan Longoria

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman

... pierogies. It's something I grew up on and don't always get, and so every time she comes to visit, I look forward to those. She made 10 dozen before she left the last time and froze them up and we cooked them for Easter.


Lightning mascot

... nectar pie. She would always have a big slice waiting for me after a long day of flying around in the long grass of Tampa Bay. She always used to say that her special pie recipe was just what a growing lightning bug needed. She must have been right, I've grown to be a huge bug. Thanks again, Mama Bug >:)

Jane Castor

Tampa police chief

... chicken and dumplings. This was my favorite dish growing up and my mom (Carolyn Castor Newby) made it every year for my birthday. There are five children in my family and I was number four, but Mom always made each of us feel special. Of course, there was the time she sent my younger brother to school with a requested baby photo, only to admit later that she had no idea if that was actually him. Guess our bald heads all looked alike. Mom and dad raised us to be honest, hard-working and independent, but they also let us know that the most important ingredients in life are love and laughter. I love you Mom.

Compiled by Times staff writers Ernest Hooper, Caitlin Johnston and Marc Topkin

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