Review: The Raging Skillet by Rossi
The Feminist Press | November 10, 2015 | Reviewed by Rebecca Patis
In The Raging Skillet, Chef Rossi, the owner and executive chef of the catering company in New York that this memoir is named after, tells the story of her love of food and cooking, and how this love has evolved over the course of her life. Rossi makes this evolution evident, both through the stories that she tells—which range from adolescent Passover dinners spent in a camper on the interstate, to her job bartending on a cruise, to her personal wedding catering experiences—and through the recipes that she adds at the end of each chapter. The reader can learn a lot about the author as a person simply through the way in which the recipes are written. Although the food being cooked becomes more sophisticated in nature as the book progresses—Rossi begins with recipes for pizza bagels and a Snickers-and-potato-chip casserole, and ends with things like butternut squash soup shots and mango-ginger sauce—the recipes mature without being the slightest bit pretentious, as Rossi employs flexible measuring methods and invites the reader to add his or her own personal touches to whatever is being made.
One thing that I found particularly interesting about Chef Rossi’s memoir was the final chapter, in which she recalls the last family road trip that she took with her parents before her mother passed away. What is arguably the most significant part of that chapter comes when Rossi’s mother rushes to meet her outside the hotel where they are staying, as she is leaving to spend a few days with a friend of hers, and whispers, “Take me with you.” Although Rossi laughs the exchange off at the time, she discusses its more serious implications in hindsight: “. . . I took another look at my mother standing in the parking lot, watching us pull away. I wasn’t so sure it was a joke this time; she’d been watching me drive away for nine years.”
Although this book is a memoir and primarily focuses on the author’s personal journey as a chef and as a person, she frequently returns to the subject of her mother. While the beginning of the book is focused on memories of Rossi’s family as a whole, her mother plays an especially significant role in how she grew up. After she begins living away from home after her parents send her to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, however, her family is not mentioned very often. Her parents pay her one impromptu visit while she is living in Brooklyn that does not end well, and that is the last that the reader sees of her family for a long time. It isn’t until the middle of the book, when Rossi is beginning to work in earnest as a wedding caterer, that she receives the news that her mother has died suddenly.
Although Rossi does not discuss at length or in great detail how her mother’s death affected her, she more than shows it in how she has written her memoir. Rossi immediately follows the news of her mother’s death with an entire chapter dedicated to her memory, titled “Ross by Way of Goldstein.” In the chapter, she talks about the woman that her mother used to be—a multilingual, violin-playing, poetry-writing mathematician and professor who was, at an earlier point in her life, a lab assistant for Albert Einstein—and the vestiges of that woman that still existed in the mother that she knew.
After Rossi moves away from her family, the story itself seems to move away from them as well. Although Rossi’s mother was clearly a huge part of her life when she was growing up, she was very far removed from her daughter’s culinary career, and was not there for any of the jobs and experiences that helped Rossi to become the person that she is today. Although they kept in touch, they did not see each other often, and their relationship was not what it once had been. The final chapter of Rossi’s memoir ends, not with humor or a sense of fulfillment or happiness, but with regret, as she wonders what might have happened if she had actually taken her mother with her and let her in, not just on that particular trip, but on everything that has happened to her since she left home, and what could have changed if she’d made a different choice.
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The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi
November 10, 2015
Posted: Jan 27, 2016
Category: Akashic in Good Company | Tags: Akashic in Good Company, Review, Feminist Press, Rebecca Patis, The Feminist Press, The Raging Skillet, Rossi, Chef Rossi, The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi