Interview with Rise' Routenberg and Barbara Wasser co-authors of
‘Divine Kosher Cuisine’
CHEF JAMES: When did you first become interested in cooking? Did you cook growing up?
RR: Cooking and baking was a part of my life since early childhood. As I relate in the cookbook, I recall sitting transfixed with my two sisters – we are triplets – in my grandmother’s Upper Peninsula Michigan kitchen, waiting for her rolls to finish baking, intoxicated with the aroma.
BW: I too have a long history with cooking – starting around when I was eight but certainly by age 11, I was already comfortable in the kitchen and starting dinner for the family as my mother was racing home from work. Yes, Rise' and I both cooked and baked most of our lives, first to be helpful at home, but later because we enjoyed it. In addition, we both love to eat, which didn't hurt either!
CHEF JAMES: Why did you decide to pursue a career in catering? Tell us how your interest in the field began.
RR: Although Barbara and I are each college-trained professional women in different careers, catering began and has continued as a volunteer activity at our synagogue when we were young wives and mothers, and eager to make friends and get involved in good works. The level of professionalism and the depth of the camaraderie at “As You Like It” kosher catering just hooked us!
BW: The best thing about this all-volunteer catering service was the constant interchange of teaching and learning going on between generations. Over 30 years of culinary wisdom was enriching us and at the same time challenging us, and when Rise' and I stepped up to running the show as co-chairs for many years, we really did stand on the shoulders of giants, and it brought out the best we had to offer.
CHEF JAMES: What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses? Your greatest joys?
RR: Now that we are retired and have time to reflect – the cookbook is the first fruit of our retirement – we realize how hard we worked, how much we accomplished.
The greatest stress we had was never having enough time to do everything we wanted to, and way too much to do, always. But that is typical catering. Our reputation soared and success generated more and more work. Probably on equal par with enjoying our professional catering success, was working with wonderful volunteers towards a common goal.
BW: Our whole families were drawn into the catering projects. Kids, parents, in-laws – everybody, sooner or later, got into the act, either helping behind the scene in the kitchen, or serving in the dining hall. My husband used to joke that we were married to Catering and offered to set up a cot in the synagogue kitchen so that we wouldn’t have to waste time sleeping at home.
CHEF JAMES: Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
RR: My mother, Diana, who is not only a wonderful cook, but also was a pastry chef in Milwaukee for 40 years, placing twice in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. And of course, my grandmother, Fanny.
BW: My mother, Sadye, was a great help and inspiration to me, by example and by her encouragement to do my best in everything I undertook. She gave me a wonderful grounding in honoring tradition and family values, and how it all comes together in the kitchen.
CHEF JAMES: Which do you find more stressful, cooking for famous people you don't know, or cooking for family and friends?
RR: Well, cooking for visiting dignitaries at the Governor’s mansion and at the New York State Legislature was certainly challenging and exhilarating but in many ways, cooking for family and friends can also be stressful, but in a benign way; you love them so much and their goodwill and appreciation is really what means most to you.
BW: That is certainly true for me as well. Family and friends come to expect marvelous meals – you’ve trained them to – and you don’t want to disappoint because their approval and appreciation after all is what got you started cooking in the first place. It’s a joyful stress.
Divine Kosher Cuisine by Rise' Routenberg, Barbara Wasser
INTERVIEW CONTINUED ON PAGE 2 >>