Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Westminster Community Charter School Executive Chef MaryRuth Rera, featured in today’s WNY Refresh cover story, works in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. It’s a far cry from where she spent eight years before returning to her native Western New York – as the private chef for fashion designer Ralph Lauren.
“The children at Westminster, K through 8, are getting a taste of what he ate and not even knowing it, which is sort of a cool thing,” Rera said.
“They’re eating like a billionaire.”
Rera developed her love for cooking while working in the graphics department at WKBW-TV Channel 7, and decided to pursue it full-time in the late 1990s.
She moved to Florence, Italy for a year, enrolled in culinary school while there, and immersed herself in Italian cuisine.
The Cheektowaga native came back to the U.S. without a job and, when touching base with a fellow culinary classmate who was working as a private chef in Manhattan, decided to do the same.
“After a couple of interviews, they hooked me up in 2001 with Ralph Lauren,” who lives much of the year in Manhattan, Rera said.
She cooked for the fashion designer and his wife for eight years.
“I traveled with him to Colorado and to Jamaica and to the Hamptons, and to his home in Westchester and his home in the city,” she said. “I just went with him everywhere, and it was a very cool world.”
Lauren eats a very healthy diet, “but very creatively,” Rera said.
“He didn’t want it to ever be boring,” she said. “The quality always had to be there, but he liked a lot of diversity.
“He loved my approach to cooking, which was fresh and whole,” she said. “My philosophy came from cooking in Italy. I wanted to cook like somebody’s grandma. I wasn’t trying to cook like the hottest chef on ‘Food Network.’
“I had this old-style approach to cooking, and he was all about that, as well.”
Lauren would have four or five vegetables at every dinner. “He always had a variety and it was always very colorful. He wouldn’t have all green. There had to be purple and orange and yellow,” Rera said.
Lauren eats lots of seafood and whole grains, she added, “and very little in the way of sweets.”
He exercises one to two hours a day, seven days a week.
Lauren will turn 74 on Monday. He always was interested in maintaining his youth, Rera said, adding, “He and his wife have been together almost 50 years now and they’ve grown together and have a very healthy lifestyle.”
Halfway through her work with Lauren, Rera married Lou V. Rera, an assistant professor of television and film arts at SUNY Buffalo State.
“For the last four years, I was married and traveling,” she said. “I had to make the decision to either be married to Ralph Lauren and that job, or my husband.”
She decided to move back to Western New York and planned to start a catering business in late 2009, but was offered the job at Westminster. She started there in January 2010, and still does catering on the side.
It matters little to Rera whether she's cooking for a big shot in the Big Apple or children in the nation’s third poorest city.
“I’m all about great food,” she said, “and that’s what I want the kids to be exposed to.”email: email@example.com