The Jew And The Carrot

Rozanne Gold's Tales of the Mayor's Kitchen

By Rebecca Flint Marx

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Rozanne Gold
Rozanne Gold cooking in the Gracie Mansion Kitchen in 1978 for Mayor Ed Koch.

Before Rozanne Gold wrote 12 cookbooks, won four James Beard Awards, created the menus for three of New York’s three-star restaurants, inspired the New York Times’ “Minimalist” column and invented the concept of Hudson Valley Cuisine, she was the private chef to Mayor Ed Koch.

Gold, who was only 23 when she moved into Gracie Mansion in 1978, spent a year squeezing fresh grapefruit juice for the mayor’s breakfast and creating the sort of simple yet sophisticated dishes that would become a hallmark of her work. It was also here that Gold prepared her first Seder, even using the mayor’s personal tips for matzo balls.

The Gracie Mansion Conservancy recently announced that the residence’s kitchen would undergo a $1.4 million renovation, its first since 1985. Gold spoke with us about her time there, reminiscing about everything from the fern wallpaper to former New York City Mayor Abe Beame’s abandoned flanken.

Rebecca Flint Marx: What was the kitchen like at the time?

Rozanne Gold: Back then it was a home kitchen, with white and green fern wallpaper, a little island in the center, and a breakfast nook. It was just like a kitchen you would see in some big house; I think there was a dishwasher, I think there was an air conditioner. It was as low-key and low-tech and bright and airy as one could imagine. Next to it was a secondary kitchen that was used more for parties. When Menachem Begin came to visit [in 1978], that kitchen had to be koshered: we had a whole squad come in and do that. I remember two guys and a blowtorch cleaning out the ovens.

When I first got there I opened up the basement freezer and there is a package in white butcher paper that says “flanken.” It was left over from the Beame administration, can you believe it?

Steve North
Fifteen years after Gold worked as Koch’s chef, they pose together for a photo.

What did you love or not love about the kitchen?

I loved the hominess, I loved that wallpaper. And there was a lot of sun and light. At that point I hadn’t worked in that many professional kitchens so it felt pretty amazing for me — I grew up in an apartment with my parents in Queens, so for me it was a very nice-sized kitchen. After parties, most people would end up in there — mayors, dignities, presidents.

Did you get any input on the food you served?

I totally created all the menus I did. [Koch] was constantly dieting, and he loved Chinese food. Everyone knew that, and that was the one cuisine I really did not cook. I traveled a lot in France and Italy, and would make fresh pasta. I’d put a broomstick on the back of two chairs and hang the pasta to dry. Ed loved that.

One of my signature dishes was a very intense chicken soup with homemade agnolotti filled with ricotta and basil and maybe a little mint — unusual things that people weren’t cooking back then. It was also a time when tilefish was popular — it’s hardly seen anymore but it’s very beautiful. I used to buy a whole fish and fill it with very thin slices of onions, tomato, and basil, and layer it in extra virgin olive oil in sea salt. In the late ‘70s, it was very unusual food — very simple and sophisticated. Ed was also crazy about tapenade.

It sounds like he had sophisticated tastes.

He was very open. He loved food and anything with garlic. Very early on he told me he was coming home with six people for dinner but walked in with 14. The kitchen was run like a home kitchen, not a professional kitchen, and I panicked. I can’t remember how I pulled this off, but at the [end of the meal] he called me into the dining room. That hadn’t happened yet. And everyone applauded and he said, “what kind of veal was that?” And I said, “chicken!” The mayor looked like a genius.

What was the job interview process like?

It was fascinating. I had to pass the interview with Marcy Blum, who’s the most important wedding planner in the world now. It was really intense because she was my age and had graduated from CIA. She was one of the first to do that — there were hardly any women back then. So I was in Marcy’s graces, and we’re still friends to this day. But they were really desperate — they’d [first] hired some fancy French chef who had bought something like $400 worth of silver and forgot to reduce the wine in the boeuf bourginon or something, and it was terrible.

Courtesy of Rozanne Gold
Gold greets Menachem and Aliza Begin outside Gracie Mansion in 1978.

Did you have any favorite guests?

Mrs. Begin. Hanging out with the prime minister was a little intimidating [but] they really influenced my life that one weekend profoundly. I had to entertain 900 people that weekend, and it was exhausting. Mrs. Begin told me to sleep in the next morning and she would make breakfast. She insisted, and made breakfast for us in that little nook.

What did she make?

An Israeli breakfast with scrambled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and feta.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rozanne Gold, NYC Mayor, Menachem Begin, Gracie Mansion, Ed Koch

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach!
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.