Andrea Apuzzo, chef and owner of his namesake restaurant Andrea's (3100 19th St., Metairie, 834-8583;, admits he was spoiled as a child. But being spoiled means something different to him than it might to others.

  "Since I grew up in Italy, everything was fresh from the ground," he says. "I was spoiled as a kid. We made our own olive oil and wine. My mother taught me at 6 years old how to get milk from cows, eggs from chickens."

  When he moved to New Orleans in 1977, Apuzzo felt right at home — the city's special ingredients and fresh seafood are reminiscent of the cuisine of his native Isle of Capri. He employed this ethos of using local ingredients for his Italian recipes during his tenure as executive chef of the Royal Orleans Hotel, and then eventually as chef of Andrea's.

  Crawfish ravioli, one of Apuzzo's favorite examples of this fusion, fills housemade pasta with Louisiana crawfish to create a spicy dish that "melts in your mouth," he says. He also recommends veal shank osso buco and crab cake Andrea, made with crabmeat and eggplant.

  Apuzzo, who already has penned two cookbooks, is working on a third featuring low-calorie, low-fat recipes. He continues to live his dream of owning a restaurant, a dream he says he's had since childhood.

  "As a little boy, I wanted to become a good chef," he says. "I achieved this goal, and I'm very proud of myself."