After months of recovery, both physically and mentally, Voorhees Township resident Alyssa Rosenthal is getting ready to head back to Johnson and Wales University for her Culinary Arts degree.
Truth be told, some may say she barely got her college education started.
It was less than a month into college when Alyssa’s mother, Mara, received one of the worst phone calls a mother can expect.
“She’d been at school for about three weeks when I’d gotten a phone call from her school that said my daughter was in the hospital,” Mara said. “The university told me I would have to call the hospital, which I did, but they also really couldn’t tell me anything at that time.
“I didn’t even know if she was conscious or not; I had no idea what was going on.”
After making the trip to Providence, Rhode Island, to see her daughter, she learned Alyssa had suffered multiple strokes and seizures caused by a blood clot. She collapsed in class, something she had never experienced.
After a week in the ICU, Alyssa was able to leave the hospital and recover at home. But an idea Mara had while in the ICU with her daughter about five months ago recently paid off in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
“It all started when she was in the ICU; she was just miserable and wanted so badly to go back to school,” Mara said. “I really didn’t know what to do at first, but after reaching out with family and friends, I decided to write a letter to (talk show host and chef) Rachael Ray asking for a letter of encouragement to cheer her up.”
Over the following months, Mara says she forget about the letter while Alyssa recovered. But she eventually received a call from a producer in New York about being on Ray’s show to highlight her daughter’s perseverance and strength.
Growing up, Alyssa says she looked up to chefs like Ray, but her biggest inspiration has been Emeril Lagasse.
“I’ve always had a passion for cooking since I was really young, just growing up cooking with my mom and my nana,” Alyssa recalled. “I was around it a lot.”
Invited on “The Rachael Ray Show,” Alyssa said she was excited to meet such a famous chef in person and learn some cooking tips. But while she would meet Ray, the chef told Alyssa that Lagasse, unfortunately, would not make it.
Yet after Ray distracted Alyssa by asking her to prepare ingredients for a dish, Lagasse came out on stage and stood behind Alyssa, who would soon turn around and meet one of her culinary role models.
“It definitely lifted my spirits and encouraged me,” Alyssa said. “Knowing that they know my story kind of made me feel better. I watched both of their shows since I was younger and I really like their styles … They’ve definitely influenced me.”
Looking back, Alyssa’s mom still finds it hard to believe everything that happened on the show became a reality.
“It was enough that we were able to be on the show with Rachael Ray in general, but to bring in Emeril as well, who is a former student of Johnson and Wales and one of Alyssa’s heroes, was just the icing on the cake,” Mara said.
Alyssa received a $20,000 scholarship during the show from Rachael Ray’s Yum-O Organization, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, to help get her going again.
As she prepares to start school at Johnson and Wales again in early March, Alyssa is anxious to get back to her culinary education.
“I’m really excited to go back,” she noted. “I was only there for a short amount of time but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.”
In the future, she says she hopes to be able to open her own restaurant in the New England area, a farm-to-table eatery focused on sustainable practices.