Bryan and Michael Voltaggio might be highly accomplished chefs, but when their mom's birthday rolled around last week, she got a cake made from a mix.

"I did bake a cake, but it's Betty Crocker," said Staci Rosenberger, kid sister to the Frederick natives competing in television's "Top Chef."

The cake baking fell to Rosenberger because she and her mother live in the same city, Las Vegas. That happens to be where Bryan, Michael and other "Top Chef" competitors have been doing culinary battle, but filming for that is over.

Bryan is back in his hometown of Frederick, where he's chef and co-owner of Volt. Michael is in California, where he's chef at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena.

In interviews last week, both brothers told me their mother inspired their cooking. She didn't dish up hifalutin' molecular gastronomy, but it was dinner, every night, with the family.

"When I was growing up - and it's the reason I have a passion for food - my mother made us sit down," Bryan said. "And there's that connection between food and family and friends."

Said Michael: "She worked full time, but every day at 6 o'clock, dinner was on the table - pork chops or macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, American sort of table food. She made casseroles a lot."

Somehow the cooking bug never bit Rosenberger.

"They got all those skills," she said, referring to her brothers. "I burn macaroni and cheese."

No resemblance

Former Baltimore County Exec Ted Venetoulis has written a novel, "Hail to the Cheat." It tells the story of a first lady who kicks the philandering president out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Sound familiar?

When Gov. Marvin Mandel decided in 1973 to leave his wife for another woman, first lady Barbara "Bootsie" Mandel refused to move out of Government House. For six months, the governor had to hang his hat at the Annapolis Hilton.

Did that juicy bit of Maryland political history inspire Venetoulis?

"Any - what's the word? - resemblance to anybody living or dead is purely coincidental," he said with a laugh.

I caught Venetoulis on his cell phone Wednesday as he was heading into a lunch at the U.S. Capitol. It was hosted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the guest of honor was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the worldwide leader of Orthodox Christianity.

Wednesday night, Venetoulis was to join the Istanbul-based patriarch for dinner with Joe Biden and others at the vice president's home. Venetoulis, a first-generation Greek-American whose parents came from the island of Rhodes, had no plans to bring up the novel with His All Holiness.

The Hopkins Story

An actor playing Mark Zuckerberg showed up this week at the Johns Hopkins University, which stood in for Harvard in a movie about the creation of Facebook. Before all that, and before the real Zuckerberg attended the real Harvard, the real Zuckerberg went to the real Hopkins.

When Zuckerberg was a kid in the mid- to late 1990s, he took courses at Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth, Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea told me.

"So this is - sort of - a Johns Hopkins movie after all!" O'Shea said via e-mail.

The youth program "identifies very bright kids through a national academic talent search, and then develops those talents in K-12 students through three-week summer programs and challenging online classes, both of which expose them to learning experiences they can't get or aren't getting in school," O'Shea said.

"We're very happy that CTY and Johns Hopkins helped to prepare Mark Zuckerberg for Harvard and everything that awaited him there and at Facebook!" O'Shea added.

Another CTY kid who made good: Sergey Brin. He took a summer course in 1987 before going on to found Google.

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