Mother Knows Best for Local Chefs and Foodies

Local chefs discuss their mothers’ cooking.

Julie Taboulie and her mother.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 8. Hopefully by now you’ve made a brunch or dinner reservation to show your mom some love and appreciation. If not, then you had better invite your mom over for a home-cooked meal.

In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked some local chefs and food professionals what kind of influence their mothers (and grandmothers) have had on their cooking and their careers. Following is their reflections.

Michael Brown, chef, Sky Armory. “My mother (Sedona Brown) is the epitome of everything good and right in this world. Growing up, I was the youngest of four boys so naturally my relationship with my mother was very strong. I was the baby of the bunch and some could say a ‘mama’s boy.’ Growing up with a fairly large family of boys, we were natural-born eaters. My parents worked hard for what we had, they always made sure we had good healthy food on the table.

“In my early years my parents did a lot of gardening. We ate everything that was presented to us on our dinner table because it was homegrown. This taught me as a boy to appreciate and respect food and the hard work that came along with it to upkeep and harvest what was grown at my house.

“Coming into this business as a 16-year-old apprentice, I had a natural love for food that stood out to the chefs that I worked for. This love transformed into passion and creativity throughout the years. Now as a 33-year-old executive chef with a son of my own to provide healthy food for, it’s easy to look back and say thank you to my mother and father (deceased) for raising a young chef to appreciate food and to understand that food is not all derived from a frozen package from the grocery store but from hard-working people with love and caring hands for the products they deliver to us on a daily basis. That is what I bring to the kitchen every day and I owe it to my upbringing.”

TV celebrity chef Julie Ann Sageer (a.k.a. Julie Taboulie): “I learned my craft from my mom, really sort of at her apron strings, for many years. From her, I really learned the Lebanese way of cooking. I really became like a sponge, observing her hands; there is so much hand work in Lebanese cooking, you need to get your hands right in there. It’s really the best way to sort of know the food, the texture of it and the temperature of it.

“I really thank my mom for instilling in me what she learned from her mother, for sharing so much, and for not settling for anything less than fresh, quality ingredients. She is a master at her craft, especially dough and pastries. She taught me to share and to cook from the heart. I give from my heart when I’m cooking food and pay that forward to the audience. I am really glad to have my mother in my life. She is on the road with me now; that support system is a key ingredient to my success.”

Thomas “Tom” Armstrong, creator of Tom’s Bootleg BBQ Sauce: Armstrong’s signature barbecue sauce, sold all over Central New York, is his own creation. But he owes his food preferences and cooking style to his mother (deceased), who was raised in Sanford, Fla.

“You have a family that you love and you make the food you love and grew up with. For me, that’s pretty much Southern-style comfort food: barbecue, mac and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, all those things.”

Armstrong is a chef at the Old Erie Restaurant in Weedsport and plans the menu for “Barbecue Wednesdays” (rain or shine) at the restaurant. Barbecue specials will be available Memorial Day weekend and every Wednesday after that. Visit or


Aileen Randolph (right) with Joe Lazarsky of Empire Buffalo.

Aileen Randolph, co-owner of Empire Buffalo and market manager for the Cazenovia Farmers Market: “I was born and raised in the South, but my mama (Evelyn Randolph) is originally from Boston. Thankfully, she was always an adventurous chef, learning to cook not only gumbo and jambalaya but also empanadas and stir fries. Nowadays, this variety is fairly common, but she was cooking global cuisines back in the late 1970s. Like her, I also like to cook a wide variety of food — and can’t seem to cook in small quantities!

“As for the next generation, my 10-year-old daughter isn’t a fan of savory cooking and unlike me she enjoys baking, particularly without a recipe.”

One of Aileen’s favorite savory recipes is Asian-Style Bison Meatballs. The recipe can be found at

John Tumino, chef and co-founder of In My Father’s Kitchen: “Just watching my mother (Cristina) has influenced me, not only the cooking, but the hospitality and the service to her family and to others. My mom was very much, and is even to this day, a busy bee. She is always on the move, doing something. I think I trade that up: I don’t like to be stagnant. Serving the greater good and helping others is something I picked up from my mother.”

The influence of Tumino’s paternal grandmother looms large in his mission to deliver food and services to Syracuse’s homeless and refugee populations. He uses his grandmother’s recipe to make IMFK’s Taste and See Pasta Sauce, which is now carried at Wegmans stores in Central New York. Visit

Inspiring “Ijee” (Fresh Herb Omelet)

From Julie Ann Sageer (Julie Taboulie, © 2016)

“Ijee” simply means “omelet,” and this open-faced fresh herb-filled Lebanese version is very simple and very satisfying. Ideal for breakfast, brunch or a light lunch, especially in the spring, using fresh herbs from mama’s glorious garden (in the Finger Lakes region). Makes 12 individual omelets, or 6 servings. Takloull bil’ Hanna! Eat in Happiness!

  • 12 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup cream or whole milk
  • 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
  • 3 scallions, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch fresh chives, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Warm pita bread or lettuce and yogurt/yogurt sauce for serving
  • Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl, and poke each yolk with a small knife or fork to loosen. Vigorously whisk the eggs until whites and yolks are completely blended together, then add in the cream or milk and whisk until soft and smooth.
  • Fold in all of the fresh herbs and season with salt and white pepper. Then, whisk in the flour until it dissolves completely. The mixture should be slightly substantial with small bubbles on the surface.
  • Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over low-medium heat in a small sauté pan (preferably copper) or cast-iron skillet. Once the butter and oil start to foam slightly, ladle about 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into the center of the pan. Lift the pan handle and gently swirl the egg mixture in a circular motion so that it coats the bottom of the pan. Allow the mixture to settle for about 10 seconds, then gently run a silicone spatula around the side walls of the pan, slightly lifting the omelet’s edges so they do not stick.
  • When the omelet turns light golden brown, after about 3 to 4 minutes, flip over by sliding the spatula under the center and swiftly turning it. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, then remove and place on a baking sheet, and cover with foil. After about 3 more omelets you will need to melt more butter and oil. Continue with the remaining butter, oil, and egg mixture. You should have about 12 small omelets.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature wrapped up into warm pocket pita bread or butter lettuce leaves with tender baby arugula leaves and dollops of yogurt or yogurt sauce and your favorite home fries.

Margaret McCormick is a freelance writer and editor in Syracuse. She blogs about food at Follow her on Twitter, connect on Facebook or email her at [email protected].

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