By Kimberly LaRussa
Walking into MaryRuth Rera’s home in Amherst, you’re first greeted by the amazing aroma of dinner cooking. Next comes Rera’s infectious smile. Her down-to-earth personality belies the experiences she’s had as a private chef who was once unsure of her path.
Many years ago, Rera was trying to find herself. She worked various 9 to 5 jobs that paid the bills, but didn’t bring much joy. In her free time she began watching an Italian cooking show featuring Biba Caggiano, a woman from Bologna, Italy who made authentic Italian food. She began daydreaming about the famous chef’s life, until one day it hit her.
“I kept thinking that’s how I want to eat. That’s what I want to cook,” said Rera. “I realized that’s what I had to do. I needed to go to Italy and become a chef.”
In 1997, Rera bought a one-way ticket to Italy, where she attended Scuola di Arte Culinaria Cordon Bleu, a culinary school in Florence.
“I got off the plane and said ‘this is it.’ I am a chef. I have a passion for this place.”
While in school, Rera met a Brazilian chef who worked for Calvin Klein. She told her about an agency that helps chefs find high-end positions. Rera put a resume together for them, and in the meantime accepted a position as a chef for a New York City family. Right before she moved, she got a call: actor Robert De Niro was looking for a chef.
“I went to the agency and met his wife and planned an audition menu, and then I got a call that the De Niros were postponing my audition. Turns out they were separating. It was all meant to be,” said Rera.
A few years later an amazing opportunity came around again. Rera had four interviews lined up in New York City, one of which was for a position with designer Ralph Lauren.
“I said, ‘I can’t wait to see which one of those three interviews work out’ because that Ralph Lauren one was just for fun; something to tell my family and friends,” she joked.
Turns out Rera got the job.
“I knew instantly. His accountant said, ‘He is a wonderful man, he just loves delicious food. He wants normal, delicious amazing food.’ I flew home and said, ‘I think this Ralph Lauren is the one — the impossible one — the one I thought would never come along.’”
Rera worked for the Laurens for eight years, traveling and spending holidays with them. When Rera got married, Lauren gifted her a wedding dress straight off his runway.
She said she’ll never forget the experience.
“I learned to always be creative and to try to never become irrelevant. He was so true to his vision for his company and that’s why I will always be true to me,” said Rera. “I won’t try to be another chef. I will always be exactly who I am – and know what my passions are and know what my joy is — and always come from a place of that rather than intimidation.”
Rera has since moved back to Western New York and now owns her own catering business, MaryRuth Rera Distinctive Catering (MaryRuthRera.com), where she specializes in cooking exquisite meals for private dinners, weddings, and special events. She also teaches others how to cook at North Drive Cooking School in Buffalo. When she’s not cooking, she’s spending time with her husband and their two dogs.