top of page
  • Rose Bennett Gilbert

THE GHOST IN YOUR COOKBOOK By Rose Bennett Gilbert

Writer Rick Rodgers perfects recipes to work in your kitchen


Hot from his oven, Rick Rodgers takes the traditional French favorite, goyère, to an haute new level. It may be labor intensive but is always an elegant pièce de résistance on any luncheon table.

Don’t look now, but there may be a ghost in your kitchen.


There’s no cause for alarm. He’s a charming ghost – ghost writer, that is. He has great taste, consummate cooking skills and a robust sense of humor. Meet Rick Rodgers, the award-winning creator or co-creator of more than 100 cookbooks that offer an endless menu of different cuisines from around the world.


More than 30 of those best-selling cookbooks are self-authored, drawing on Rodgers’ many years as a cook, caterer and writer for such major foodie publications as Bon Appétit and Food and Wine. He honed his recipe-writing and testing skills working in the test kitchens of such magazines, working his way up the ladder.


Rodgers has cooked up around 300 Thanksgiving dinners over the years and sold more than 75,000 copies of “Thanksgiving 101.”

He’s a media star and a teacher, talking about food on shows such as Today, Good Morning America, CBS Good Morning, and the Food Network Challenge. He has swapped recipes with Chopped’s Chris Santos and taught hundreds of harried home cooks how to turn out the perfect holiday turkey. As brand ambassador for Perdue Farms, he has traveled the country, cooking up around 300 Thanksgiving dinners over the years. Grateful fans have bought 75,000 copies of his how-to cookbook, Thanksgiving 101.


Then there is the other Rick Rodgers, the cookbook collaborator, the expert ghost writer who helps media celebrities realize a desire to publish a polished cookbook filled with their family favorites and other beloved recipes. As the pro who ensures those recipes will work in anyone else’s kitchen, Rodgers has held the hand that held the spoon for luminaries such as singer Patti LaBelle and reality star Lisa Vanderpump as they stirred, baked, and fried their way to producing cookbooks. His books for “New Jersey Housewife” Teresa Giudice were New York Times Best Sellers.

A long-running act: Patrick Fisher (left) and Rick Rodgers met as ‘hyphenated’ actor-waiters 42 years ago.

Thanks to Rodgers, everyone can enjoy traditional meatballs per Frankie Avalon’s Italian Family Cookbook and coconut-crusted chicken (healthy, of course) from The Oz Family Kitchen where “America’s Doctor” Mehmet Oz dines with his wife, cookbook author Lisa Oz.


Many blue-chip corporations also enlist Rodgers’ expertise. Rodgers tells you how to whip up a creamy crab bisque in Flavors of the Southern Coast he created for lifestyle brand Tommy Bahama. Williams-Sonoma has chosen Rodgers to write more than 10 titles in its series of cookbooks.


“Frankie Avalon’s Italian Family Cookbook” is one of the many celebrity cookbooks Rodgers worked on.

He’s created corporate cookbooks for The Fresh Market, Nordstrom and Patsy’s, the famed Italian eatery in New York’s theater district. He has been brand ambassador for a long list of clients such as Grand Marnier, Absolut, Yellow Tail Wines, Weber, Kingsford, Driscoll’s, Four Roses Bourbon, and amazon.com/kitchen. Rodgers’ advice and recipes can also be found online at Epicurious.com and Tastebook.com.


“I’m a generalist,” he says. “I cook alongside the subjects of whatever book we’re working on, then I go home and make every one of their recipes in my kitchen. I’ve had to learn how to cook everything.” He shares his West Orange townhouse with his partner of 42 years, Patrick Fisher. His spotless kitchen looks more like a laboratory than the source of such delights as the exquisite Viennese specialties in Kaffeehaus, Rodgers’ classic book that has been in print for more than 20 years.


The long success of Kaffeehaus has inspired Rodgers to add tour guide to his resume. He plans to take food lovers to some of the world’s tastiest destinations, touring the cafés and bakeries of Vienna, Salzburg, and Budapest in spring 2025. (Info at globalgourmands.com.)


It wouldn’t be the first time he’s reinvented himself. Rodgers intended to be an actor. A native of Oakland, CA, he earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from San Francisco State.


“But I soon realized that I was not a good enough actor to make it a career, seeing my fellow students on Broadway and cabaret stages and movies,” he says. “I’d be just another gay actor who would have to live in a closet. At that point in time, there were no role models, no Nathan Lane or Harvey Fierstein. The only visible ‘gay celebrity’ was Truman Capote. No thanks.”


Relocating to New York, he soon fell into what he calls the “hyphenated” role of actor-waiter. “I snagged a job at Teacher’s, a beloved neighborhood spot next door to Zabar’s,” Rodgers says on his Facebook page. “As a young Californian, I did not fully realize that I had become involved with places and people that would become legendary. Customers included Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Sarah Dash (of LaBelle), Kurt Vonnegut and his then son-in-law Geraldo Rivera (who preferred to change his baby’s diapers on the banquette in the dining room), William Hurt, Jo Van Fleet, Charles Durning, and many more.


“I think my ease of working with celebrities on their cookbooks was based on my dealing with these people early on. I also realized that food was going to be my life.”


It was at Teacher’s that he met Fisher, another actor-waiter who would eventually join the production staff of Newsweek magazine. After holding positions at local nonprofits Worldwide Orphans and The Valerie Fund, Patrick works with Growth for Good, Katherine DeFoyd’s consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. He and Rodgers lived on Midland Blvd in Maplewood for more than 15 years before relocating, briefly, to Delaware, then, “happily!” back to Essex County and West Orange.


Rodgers’ culinary skills, ebullience and unflappability soon opened other impressive kitchen doors in Manhattan. He became the private chef to the popular husband-wife comedic twosome Stiller and Meara. Later, thanks to his training in French cuisine in Paris, he was recruited by the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue, where he catered très grand official functions – with a French accent, of course. (Never mind that Rodgers’ family came from Lichtenstein. “They told me that they mainly ate only what they grew or could forage,” he says.)


Then came the cookbooks. In the early ‘90s, after meeting publishers at French Embassy events, he began editing celebrity cookbooks. Eventually, he was invited to publish some of his own, thanks to a “nice, fat contract for three cookbooks.” The rest is publishing history. Many of Rodgers’ 100-plus cookbooks have become runaway best-sellers. (His Fondue has sold a whopping 200,000 copies.)


“I was lucky,” Rodgers recalls. “I was able to turn a passion into a business:” a prize-winning business, no less. The Chelsea Market Cookbook won the Cookbook Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which also cited his Kaffeehaus and The Carefree Cook.


Bon Appétit gave Rodgers its Food and Entertaining Award for Outstanding Cooking Teacher. His book for Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours was nominated for the prestigious James Beard Cookbook Award.


Now Rodgers is moving on to YouTube and TikTok. “The young today are totally visual,” he says. “It is my job to help them with their words.”


Rodgers' next book, "Stacked", headlined by media influencer Owen Han, is all about modern sandwiches and is due out this fall. Photo credit: Art by Corie.

His next book, due out this fall, will be Stacked (Harper Harvest), all about modern sandwiches. It’s headlined by hot young media influencer Owen Han (who has more than 5 million followers on TikTok), and it’s equally show and tell. Co-creating Stacked with a millennial too young to remember Dagwood Bumstead’s towering sandwiches has also inspired Rodgers to update his own website. He is the relentless reinventor, always keeping pace with the world’s changing tastes.


 

Sesame Cookies

Makes 2½ dozen

Recipe from Tea and Cookies (William Morrow)

by Rick Rodgers


Photo credit: Ben Fink

The sesame-coated cookies have an Asian flair that complements many teas, but is a good cookie-jar recipe, too. For a dramatic ying-yang look, coat half of each ball with black sesame seeds (available at Asian and Indian markets) and the other half with white seeds. The dark sesame seeds do not taste different than their pale counterparts. Find black sesame at Asian grocers (Gold Valley in Springfield or Kam Man in East Hanover) or online.


  • 2½ cups (280 g) all-purpose flour

  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • ¼ cup whole milk

  • ½ teaspoon almond extract

  • ½ cup hulled sesame seeds


  1. Position a rack in the top third and center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  2. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the yolks, and then the milk. Stir in the flour and mix just until the dough is combined. Cover and refrigerate until chilled and firm enough to handle, at least 1 and up to 4 hours.

  3. Using a scant tablespoon for each cookie, shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in the sesame seeds to coat. Place 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake, switching the position of the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are light golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes.

  4. Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire cake racks and cool completely. (The cookies can be made up to 5 days ahead, stored in airtight containers at room temperature.)


For Rose Bennett Gilbert, a journalist who always locates her desk within easy commuting distance to the kitchen, this was a really delicious assignment.

Comments


bottom of page