By: Shannon Hames
To be a chef with only one name, you really need to own it. That’s exactly what tomboy Chef Rossi does. Combining her passion for story telling (both as a writer and a radio host) and cooking edgy, cool food, she has built an incredible reputation for herself. Zagat said she is “the wildest thing this side of the Mason-Dixon line.” She was also ranked among The Knot’s Best Of Wedding Caterers for 2010-2015.
Her Huffington Post piece titled “The Rock and Roll Pride Ride and the Tomboy Queen” got our attention so we caught up with this badass to talk to her about her “anti-catering” businesses, her childhood being a tomboy and the fall release of her upcoming memoir, “The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi”.
TomboyX: Why do they call you the “anti-caterer”?
Chef Rossi: I’ve been catering since the 80’s and when I started, the food looked pretty decent but tasted bad. The meats wouldn’t be marinated, there were no sauces. It was gross. I wondered why wedding food couldn’t taste like restaurant food. My time working for other caterers taught me what NOT to do.
I started my own catering company. People loved my food so I started getting a lot of referral business. But after cooking the same thing over and over, it got boring. I did away with the concept of “Sample Menu A and Sample Menu B” and just started asking my clients for their "magical wish list of your favorite foods in the universe" and then I create a menu out of that.
TBX: So you just wanted to take it up a notch?
CR: Yes! I was raised in what I like to call a “lowly-Orthodox” home. Like, we’d be camping in a white trash campground somewhere and having a Passover Seder. It set me up for doing some fun, kooky food. I began to get a reputation as the caterer to call when there is a British bride who wants a whole, under-seasoned roast and her Pilipino groom wants sticky rice with pineapple sauce.
I would also tell my clients how to save money, which is something a lot of caterers don’t do. My Jewish mom’s religious shit ruined me on not being a liar. I am just not able to lie to people. I tried to be a little full of shit but was just no good. So I tell the truth: alcohol has a huge mark-up so people should just buy it themselves and save a fortune.
TBX: You also have a reputation for doing some pretty “out there” stuff with your food and your service.
CR: Yes. When I started, my company was called “Parties by Rossi” (kind of like “Bodies by Jake.”) But when I decided to end the boring food, I changed the name to “The Raging Skillet” and started on this amazing culinary adventure.
TBX: Any memorable catering moments?
CR: Yes! I was catering for the Vagina Monologues. I made all this food to look like vaginas. I used dried fruit to make a vagina and I used a sun-dried cranberry as the clitoris. Susan Sarandon walked over to it, grabbed the clit and popped it in her mouth and ran away laughing. I yelled after her, “Susan Sarandon just ate my clitoris!” The room just erupted with laughter. It was my best culinary moment.
TBX: What do you cook at home?
CR: I like to cook what I date. In the past, when I dated a West-Indian girl, I cooked West-Indian food. Then it was Dominican, then Jewish, then Cuban.
TBX: What are you eating now?
CR: Italian. For 5 years now.
TBX: What are you passionate about?
CR: Writing. In 1991, I wrote a cooking column in a local Provincetown magazine. I realized that I could marry my two loves of cooking and writing – they didn’t have to compete with each other. They could be friends.
Then, I began hosting my radio show, “Bite This.” It’s been on WOMR and running for 12 years now. I tell stories and then, at the end, I share a recipe that goes with the story. I didn’t realize it at the time but these stories with their recipes began to form the framework of my book which is about to be released in November. It’s 16 years in the making and full of hilarious stories and great recipes.
TBX: You’re a self-proclaimed tomboy. Tell me about that.
CR: Tomboys rule! When I was a kid, all of my friends were male. I only hung out with boys and I did what they did. I didn’t want to play with girls or dolls or wear dresses. After I got into a playground fight with a boy in 2nd grade (and beat him up), my teacher recommended to my parents that I see a therapist for “gender confusion.”
I went to see this lady for 8 weeks. She seemed to really care about what I had to say. I remembered how well she listened because it was the first time in my life that anyone ever treated me that way. At the end of that time, she went to my parents and told them that there was nothing wrong with me. She said I was a bit “eccentric” but otherwise normal. I really thought it was cool to have that label, too.
TBX: So your parents have been supportive since then?
CR: My mom died when I was 28. She was a poet. I used to mail the articles that I wrote to her and she would Xerox them and mail them to her family. One day, I wrote an article about how I started cooking because we got a microwave and that’s all she wanted to use to cook anymore. She was so proud of the fact that I wrote about her.
My dad and I never had a very good relationship until about 5 years ago. I was the black sheep of my family and I ran away when I was 16. We never got along. But now, I have him in an assisted living in Los Angeles and anytime I have more than 3 days off, I fly to LA to see him. He’s so excited to see me and likes to brag to everyone there about me. I’ll walk in and he lights up and says, “There’s my beautiful daughter!”
I have found that the best way to heal myself over the broken heart I had that he never really cared for me is to care for him. You do for them what they didn’t do for you. At the end of the day, he really did get the son he always prayed for. It just took him about 40 years to realize it.
TBX: Tell me about your TomboyX Style.
CR: I love TomboyX undies! My standard wardrobe might be a t-shirt. Like, I’ll wear a Blondie shirt, cowboy hat, some hiking boots – just straight-up tomboy!
TBX: What are you listening to?
CR: I’m old school. I listen to Led Zeppelin, Joan Jett, U2, Patti Smith, the Ramones. I also really like Coldplay and the man in black, Johnny Cash. I love Tony Bennett and am dying to see him in concert with Lady Gaga.
TBX: Who is your favorite tomboy?
CR: Joan Jett.
TBX: How can we keep up with that’s going on with you?
CR: I have a website, a Facebook page, my Twitter is @ChefRossi, my Instagram is @ChefRossiNYC. People can also subscribe to my Huffington Post column if they want to read my articles.