Immobilized in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke at age 6, the entire left side of her body having shut down, Rossella Cangialosi spent her days watching her mother cook.
Cooking always had special meaning in the Cangialosi household. It was a passion, a symbol of the family’s Italian pride and, most important, a family affair — her parents, Vito and Anna Maria, both born in Sicily, emphasized to Rossella and her brother and sister the importance of eating together every night as a family. Watching her mother do it night after night gave her an even greater appreciation of the art.
To her doctors’ amazement, Cangialosi recovered after a month and was back on her feet. And then it was her turn to cook.
Fourteen years later, she hasn’t stopped.
Honing her culinary skills first at Nassau BOCES in Westbury, while attending East Meadow High School, and then at the School of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts at Monroe College in New Rochelle, Cangialosi, now 20, competed on Aug. 1 in a national cooking competition in Florida hosted by the American Culinary Federation, to determine the best student chef in the country.
In one of several events held during the ACF National Convention & Show from July 30 to Aug. 3 at the Orlando World Center Marriott, Cangialosi cooked four servings of a four-course meal in an hour, while competing against four other student chefs in front of 100 observers and five judges. She was awarded a gold medal for achieving a score above 90, and finished second overall.
Though she was focused intently on the task at hand during the competition, she said that spectators approached her afterward to congratulate her — and to note that she couldn’t stop smiling while she was cooking. If they knew her story, they would understand why she loved it so much. “Cooking is definitely in my blood,” Cangialosi said four days after the competition. “It brings people together.”
She added, “I guess you can say cooking food saved me.”