• Tracy Hrajnoha

Rosy Petri

Rosy makes a mean mayonnaise cake, and she has her grandmother to thank...kind of. Rosy shares with me her own twist on the "secret" family recipe and how she takes after her grandmother, Diane Gustin.

Rosy is an artist, cook, and all-around Renaissance woman. Her creativity, drive, and passion are unparalleled, and her honesty and strong sense of self is magnetic. In fact, it was a conversation with Rosy that sparked the creation of the Cook for Someone You Love blog. One exchange with Rosy will leave you inspired and imagining the possibilities for your own work. Turns out, her creative, entrepreneurial spirit can be traced back to her grandma, Diane Gustin. I am honored to share her story and the "secret" recipe that, turns out, wasn't so secret after all.


CFSYL: Can you tell me what you made, what is this dish?

RP: The dish is Grandma Diane's "secret" mayonnaise cake, it is a chocolate cake from a secret family recipe passed down from generation to generation.

CFSYL: Since you are cooking in honor of your grandmother, can you tell me about her?

RP: My grandma was a creative person and an entrepreneur. She had a lot of children, she was a good Catholic, and a stay-at-home mom. She ran a poodle grooming business out of her basement, cooked all of her meals from scratch, and called bingo. When she passed away, I inherited all of her creative materials and that's when I realized that I actually do a lot of the things that she did, but she didn't get to teach me.

Rosy mixes the batter

CFSYL: Can you tell me a little bit about this recipe?

RP: When my grandma passed away, this was one of the things I really, really missed. I realized I hadn't had mayonnaise cake in years and she brought it to every family thing- every reunion, Christmas, holiday, birthday. So I called my cousin, who is the baker in our family, and asked her for the recipe, and she shared it with me. And she also shared with me that grandma got it off the Hellman's jar, so the secret wasn't our family's recipe, [laughs] we just ate it a lot and it's just really good cake.

CFSYL: I noticed you have some different ingredients from the original mayonnaise cake- did you change it up?

RP: I did. I'm not really a baker, but I am a cook, and the cook in me wanted something spicy, something more rounded to go with the sweetness of the cake. It's pretty sweet, pretty moist as well. So I added cayenne and chili pepper, and for the frosting -my grandma did a powder sugar milk frosting- I did a buttercream frosting with plum, black pepper, and basil jam.

Rosy changes it up by using a muffin tin and adding cayenne and chili pepper to the cake

CFSYL: That sounds amazing. So, why do you cook, personally?

RP: Besides being hungry?


RP: Actually, I learned how to cook because I grew up mostly with my mom, and she didn't like to cook. There was a problem with that, because I like to eat and I like to eat delicious things. We grew up with a lot of boxed stuff because she was working and was a single mom. I really needed to eat better things, so I started learning how to cook. I would follow people around, ask them questions, show up in their kitchens. We actually had a neighbor across the street who was going to school to become a chef, and she taught me how to make my first roux and gravy- from there the sky was the limit. So that's how I learned and that's why I do it. There's something really nice about taking a bunch of pieces of things and making something greater than the sum of its parts.

CFSYL: What is good food to you? Or better food?

RP: Food that you can actually identify as food without too many additional steps. Real ingredients, they don't have to be fancy ingredients. For example, this cake with mayonnaise in it. Soups made from vegetables, making your own stocks, fresh bread, good cheese. I mean, non processed and things that lend themselves easily to share with friends.

CFSYL: I know you said you grew up with single mom who served a lot of convenience food

RP: Yea, and she didn't really like to cook a lot. My dad, when they were together, he cooked, and he was Southern, so he cooked. My grandmother, she cooked differently, simply. One of the things she cooked, one of her signatures, was some fresh sliced tomatoes. She had a knack for picking the best tomatoes, so she would slice them up, put them on the table with a little salt and pepper. She was able to pick great ingredients and make it work. Good food doesn't have to be fancy food.

CFSYL: When you cook, do you find yourself thinking of family and people who have passed? When you're cooking certain things do you think of your grandmother?

RP: There are some things when I eat, I think of her. I don't cook like she did, I cook in a very different style, but when I think about food and when I think about family, they are pretty inextricably linked. I don't feel like you can ever be around your family and not be eating, or being fed, or with some kind of food situation happening. I do think about learning how to cook by partially watching my dad. I had a cousin who I didn't even know was my cousin, and when I was working at the Gathering, this man introduced himself to me and he said something really funny like, "How is your family?" I thought this was really weird, but then I found out he was my oldest cousin. He actually passed away, but when he was at the soup kitchen I got to know him. That was a very food-oriented thing; I wound up getting an apartment and he would come over and we would eat and play cards. Also feeding my kid, he's a vegetarian, and we do a lot with food. He's learning how to cook now.

Rosy makes the butter cream using her homemade jam

CFSYL: If somebody wanted to show you that they loved you, what would they cook you and why?

RP: So there is something, but most people can't cook it the way he did. My dad used to cook these smothered potatoes, it's not anything fancy, but I'm not able to really do it myself. Cubed potatoes in a cast iron skillet with oil, peppers for seasoning, slow cooked, high heat at the end, and it's potatoes, just potatoes, only potatoes. People can't do it; I can't do it. That was the last thing he cooked for me. I can't do it or would have made that.

CFYSL: I was wondering who you were going to pick to cook for, is that one of the reasons why you chose your grandmother's dish instead?

RP: I think that when people want to know about cooking legacies, they don't necessarily want to know about the every day. They want to know about the special occasion foods. People are really more interested in celebration food, because it's a special. A special dinner every once in a while is nice, but there's always something in their memory that recalls a special time that is exciting, that they look forward to. You have to eat every day, but you don't get to eat dessert like this every day. It's a little different.

The finished product and her trusty companion, Mojo


Mayonnaise Cake (The Original)

by Rosy Petri in honor of Diane Gustin


For Cake:

3 cups unsifted flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cup Hellman's Mayo

1 1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

For Icing:

1 cup sugar

3-4 tbsp cocoa

1/4 cup milk

1/4 butter


For Cake: Combine wet and dry ingredients. Grease 2 (9 x 1 1/2 inch) layer pans lined with waxed paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Makes 2 layers.

For Icing: Combine all ingredients; cook and boil for 1 minute. Ice cake.

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