Next week we are welcoming a very special guest of honor to the Green Building. She's already quite familiar with the behind-the-scenes of many of our events - in fact, she's probably running the show. Meet Chef Rossi, owner and executive chef of the Raging Skillet. If you've ever had just a moment's interaction with you, you'd immediately know this woman is a firecracker and full of love and endless life stories. She'll bake you cookies and tell you about the time Susan Sarandon ate an anatomically correct fruit plate. But now lucky for us, all these stories have been published into her memoir complete with accompanying recipes for an even tastier peek inside the life of a caterer. The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi is published by the Feminist Press who is throwing their annual "Challah"day fundraising party on December 3rd. Tickets now available.
One of your early starts into catering was as a bartender throwing together bar nachos. How did all that lead to the Raging Skillet as it stands now?
I was one of those kinds of bartenders that had the same 30 people at my bar. The kitchen would close and I’d be stuck with all these drunks who had nothing to eat. So I went to the back and started cooking food for them. I was always inventing nachos out of whatever was left in the kitchen, and after a while I started to get this cult following for my late night nacho fest. I thought, you know what, I like making the nachos a lot more than dealing with the drunks. I better just go learn how to cook. But I was working with a lot of misogynistic chefs. This was the 80s and women were not welcome. So I started my own business, and I had decided I didn’t want to do really boring food. In the 80s there were a lot of really terrible requests. The first name for my business was Parties by Rossi. People were calling me for horribly boring food. I couldn’t stand it. I needed to change the name of my company to something where people won’t even ask in the first place. At the time, I was writing a cooking column called the Raging Flying Skillet so I changed the company name to the Raging Skillet and from that point on I pretty much only got wild requests. People ask me for all kinds of crazy stuff. Probably my claim to fame is the multiethnic caterer. Like who do you call if the groom is from the Philippines and the bride is from England?
What’s been your favorite combo?
I had one that was Jamaican and Jewish so we got to do jerk chicken on latkes.
Is there a dream fusion you want to do?
That I haven’t done already? I don’t know, I feel like I’ve done them all. I mean I like white trash and old world Jewish New York food. So I’m up for someone who wants to take those two things and maybe fuse them with an Asian culture. Korean BBQ stuffed cabbage. I’m down for it.
Is there a recipe that sticks out from your childhood?
When I wrote the book, I included recipes I had written when I was a kid. As we were doing final edits, I went back to test the recipes and just assumed that the stuff I was doing when I was 12 was going to be horrible. How could it not be? I had this old recipe for a potato chip and Snickers casserole that’s sure to be horrid, but with a couple little tweaks, it was actually pretty great. I’m thinking about adding it as a new dessert item on my menu.
So you would serve that at a wedding?
Yeah, absolutely. I must have been on to something. I was stoned and 12 years old. I tried it now, unstoned, and it still tastes good.
Do you still get to incorporate these adventurous dishes today?
I get to play up a lot of my kooky stuff. I have an unusual childhood because I was raised with Jewish food but also Southern trash food. And it’s a very odd combination. Have you met anyone else who's had kishke and grits? It’s a very trippy combination. Now in catering I get to play with all of that.
You’ve been doing nontraditional catering for a while. You’ve got to have a collection of stories by now. Got any that stick out?
My favorite catering moment was some years ago when I catered the Vagina Monologues. It was an all-star tribute. I made food for 600 celebrities and all the food had to be anatomically correct. So basically everything I made looked like a vagina. I made this giant vagina out of dried fruit, and I had a strategically placed sundried cranberry that was supposed to be the clitoris and Susan Sarandon came by, popped it in her mouth, and ran away. It was just the best.
So how did you get together with the Feminist Press?
I got hired to cater the 40th anniversary party for Ms. Magazine and they also wanted me as a speaker because evidently I’m considered a feminist - who knew? Well Hurricane Sandy blew in and we had no power, nothing. This neighborhood was ruined. I was sure they were going to cancel. They didn’t because feminists are tough. I had managed to pull it together. But I had lost my entire speech because we lost power and I lost my brain. So I just talked about the powerful women in my neighborhood who were helping everyone during the hurricane. After the speech one woman approached me, and she was just thrilled with what I had to say.
How has it been working with them on publishing your book?
The Feminist Press is a wonderful nonprofit organization that’s done a lot for the advancement of women. They take on great causes. They move by their hearts and sense of what’s right or wrong in the world. They’ve been incredibly kind and loving to work with. I have friends who are book authors and they’re treated like an item that the company is selling. They feel disposable. And I feel like I’m a goddess. It’s pretty cool.
The Feminist Press is hosting their fundraising holiday party at the Green Building next week. Should we expect any anatomically correct foods?
Oh I’m not sure that I’m going to serve vaginas or not. But I’m going to serve a lot of my zingers. There’ll definitely be some fun, kooky food and of course there’s an open bar and great music. I’ll be doing a reading from my book. Plus all the friends and lovers of the Green Building will have a chance to be there. Lot of people don’t really get to go there. They maybe got or are getting married there, but they never get to just go? So here’s a party that anyone can come to and have a great time.