hode Island chef Roscoe Gay never imagined he’d be cooking on national television. But in October, The Drew Barrymore Show contacted him with very specific instructions: cook a dish on air using the supermarket staple Ragu. The caveat, no pasta. Oh, and surprise! It was a cooking competition.
Gay immediately thought: short ribs. But he had to come up with the recipe on the fly, because they could use only 10 ingredients – Gay’s short rib recipe uses double that number. “I had to get creative,” he says. The dish – tender ribs nestled in a quick-cook polenta – was a hit and Gay took home first place bragging rights as well as a $1000 check.
“I was so tired,” Gay says of the television taping, noting that his father, who had terminal cancer, passed away that same week. “Part of me was so excited to be on TV, but part of me was like, I just want to go home.”
There’s a twist to Gay’s story. This was a cooking competition for home cooks, and Gay qualified because, surprisingly, he has no formal training.
Gay moved from his native Massachusetts to Rhode Island in 2014 to work as an analyst for CVS. But the desk job didn’t suit him. “I am not that person to be in a cubicle,” he says, noting that the job’s demands were intense.
A Cake Boss addict, Gay took inspiration from Buddy Vilastro and began baking, finding time in the kitchen therapeutic. He posted his masterpieces on social media. “People just started contacting me,” he says, to create cakes for their special occasions.
Gay is quick to note that success didn’t come easy. An avid home cook, he assumed baking was more art than science. He dispelled that myth with his first cake attempt. “I opened the oven and that red velvet cake was bubbling,” he says with a laugh. But Gay takes those mistakes in stride, noting that “the best lessons are the burnt ones.”
Friends and family invested in Gay’s dream, donating and purchasing supplies. Eventually, his name got around and Providence’s Vibe Lounge contacted him about an executive chef position. “I loved being in the kitchen, the rush of the tickets,” he says. But he notes that, given it was his first professional job, “they were very forgiving if I messed up.”
He moved to Bell’s Café in Newport to work the line. The 100 orders a night he was accustomed to at Vibe became 100 orders an hour. “It was the best experience in the kitchen,” says Gay. “You work with a team to get those orders out. If I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t be the chef I am today.”
Around 2017, Gay got licensed through a food incubator program at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley and began formally offering his services as a caterer and private chef through his Every1sChef brand.
He gained a reputation for his soul food, a style of cooking he gravitated towards because “that’s what my father made.” As he learned other techniques and styles through his on-the-job training (he also worked at Skyline in Providence), his palate opened up. Now he calls his cooking style “soul food with a twist,” and enjoys mixing foods from different cultures, like infusing traditional French or Italian cooking with Caribbean flavors.
YouTube, television cooks, copious amounts of cookbooks, and a lot of Googling taught him to cook, but it’s Gay’s passion and drive that make him Every1sChef. “Whatever I do, I want to provide excellence,” he says. “It’s an extension of me on that plate.”
Chef Roscoe Gay hosts an Every1sChef pop-up every Sunday at Still on Main in Pawtucket. Facebook: Every1sChef
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