Alumni & Friends
The author of more than 40 cookbooks, and the editor, writer and recipe developer for another 30, Rick Rodgers (B.A.,’76) set out to be a musical theatre star but found himself in front of an entirely different audience. Nevertheless, he continues to receive the equivalent of standing ovations.
His cookbooks “Kaffeehaus” and “The Carefree Cook” have garnered award nominations from the prestigious International association of culinary Professionals. Williams-sonoma regularly calls on him for his expertise, and he was asked to compile and edit his latest book, “The Essential James Beard Cookbook,” at the request of the estate of the dean of American cuisine.
Though Rodgers traded in a budding musical career for the food scene, it wasn’t for lack of talent. In fact, he earned the coveted role of Tulsa in “Gypsy” as a freshman. his knack for learning lines was likely fortified by his early days memorizing cheeses, breads and meats at a gourmet shop in San Leandro, Calif., where he got his first food gig at the age of 15. “Even then, the East Bay was a food lover’s paradise,” he says, “and my family taught me to cook at an early age.” His skills in the kitchen didn’t escape his professors. “Jack Byers, chair of the Theatre Arts department, knew I was a budding chef and hired me as a caterer,” Rodgers recalls with pride.
After graduation, Rodgers moved to New York to pursue his theatrical dreams, cooking and serving in restaurants to make ends meet. As a manager at teacher’s, a popular neighborhood establishment on the Upper West Side “that was straight out of ‘Seinfeld,’” he met Broadway and Hollywood stars like Jerry Stiller. “When they heard that I could cook, I soon found myself in kitchens on Riverside Drive and Fifth Avenue,” says Rodgers, who started his own catering firm, Cuisine Americaine.
His culinary big break came when he catered a large reception for Catherine Deneuve that led to a longstanding relationship with the French cultural affairs office. “This was the beginning of the celebrity chef syndrome, and I was in the thick of the action,” he says. “I began aspiring toward a different kind of stardom.” As Rodgers began customizing parties for visiting French dignitaries, he soon caught the attention of magazine editors and publishing houses, simultaneously starting his career as a cookbook author and food authority.
Rodgers believes none of this would have been possible without his alma mater.
“I feel nothing but gratitude for my education,” he says. “I loved honing my performance skills onstage at McKenna Theatre, and I now love teaching about the ever-changing culinary scene. food is about sharing, and I like to think I’m bringing something worth while to the table.”
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