Chef Rozanne Gold on Losing Windows on the World, September 11th 2001

“And that’s the great thing about humanity – that everyone came together and was affected by it.”

– Rozanne Gold

I remember the morning of September 11th, 2001 very clearly.

I was a junior in college, about 100 miles from New York City. Sunlight was reflecting off the lake and filling my bedroom, where my boyfriend and I had just made love and fell back to snoozing lazily before we had to leave for class. I got up to get us some water, and found my roommates staring in shock at the TV while the towers burned.

“We didn’t want you to know until you had to know.”

We sat. We cried. I called all my friends in the city, and made sure they were accounted for; later I would find out that one was working in the basement of the towers that day, and had lost his whole crew when he’d left the building to get them all coffee.

We went to campus in shock, both at the morning that had passed and at the baseness of our fellow students on campus, who were smiling and continuing on throughout their day, oblivious to the significance we somehow inherently understood. We went to church and prayed in silence amongst others deeply affected. As three roommates who coincidentally couldn’t donate blood because of medical issues, we volunteered at our local Red Cross in the weeks to come. One day, I filed missing persons reports and found three from my hometown 50 miles from the city. A few weeks later, those names were amongst others we memorialized as a torn community.

Two years later I moved to New York, and ten years after that I am still here, sunlight pouring in through my windows as I type up transcripts with chefs and recipes, the neighboring bricks glowing red.

I’ve always been in love with this city, and I don’t ever see myself truly leaving it. Over the years I’ve written memorials to those around the country we’ve lost, baked cupcakes for the firehouse closest to Ground Zero, and donated to John Feal’s Feal Good Foundation, an organization that supports the first responders injured and illed by their work those months after the collapse, who I was introduced to by an ex-boyfriend two years ago when I helped him with this piece for Dateline, Australia.

And then, last year, I was accidentally hit with a new perspective on that day.

In 1996 Windows on the World – the restaurant that sat atop one of the towers and had been the city’s gem for so long – was revitalized by chef Rozanne Gold. She had moved on by 2001 – when 79 employees died in the collapse – but had a strong connection to the space where she had worked so hard and continued to celebrate regularly long after she’d moved on professionally. What follows is the full bit of our discussion, most of which did not make it into our published interview in 2012.

Rozanne Gold, photo Brent Herrig Photography

Rozanne Gold, photo Brent Herrig Photography

What was it like, going in for the revamped Windows on the World in 1994?

Now, Windows had already been created by Joe [Baum] and Michael [Whiteman] in 1976. It’s really a fascinating piece of history because it was a real competition to get that job. Thousands applied for it, then it was eventually narrowed down to three. It was so hard to work on it; we did so with architects and designers, to develop the full idea on paper and hand it to the Port Authority, who would make the final decision.

There were two main features. Joe Baum said, “I want a bar called the Greatest Bar on Earth.” So the bar was on the 106th floor and it looked a little like a village. Even the floors looked like a little undulated you’d be walking on a piazza in Europe. But the lights looked sort of like Star Trek. It was pretty wild. Our view was global, so the flavors and food were a bit over the top. We would have these crispy shrimp in vermicelli so each shrimp was the size of a softball, with some sort of Asian dipping sauce. This was really before people knew about chimichuri, so we would have some sort of chimichuri steak on a flat bread. It had a very global; rather than use the word “fused”, I used the word “borderless”. It was like all the borders of the world opened.

And then the restaurant itself was to be a little bit quirky but very global in its perspective. So we did a whole veal shank for two with Mexican spices en papillote, that was very dramatic when it was brought to the table. I planned a white clam risotto with a poached lobster in clam sauce as the best seller, and it was. It was pretty amazing. There were huge skewers of shrimp in some sort of Icelandic caviar cream sauce. Food that was a little bit evocative, literary and playful.

And I guess it presented well, because we won! So it was quite amazing that Joe got to do it at the second time.

Aside from the horrific loss all New Yorkers felt on September 11th, 2001, what felt significant or personal about losing the World Trade Center and the restaurant that crowned it?

Michael (Whiteman) and I still talk about this. We still feel like we’re in shock about all of it. We had an office on the 106th floor. We did not know many of the people who died. We knew some. I was just there two days before, where my family always went to have their celebrations. Some times I think we’re still in shock, like we never ever dealt with it.

I remember being happy that Joe wasn’t alive, that he had died. I felt like he wouldn’t have been able to handle it at all. I felt so bad for Joe and Michael because so much of their identity was at the World Trade Center. So much of their professional and personal history was connected to the World Trade Center and all the restaurants they created. There’s so much history that can never be repeated.

But personally the story that I can’t get out of my mind was how a young boy in the kitchen asked someone to switch with him that day because he needed to be with his family. And so someone switched with him. And that was the day. I can’t imagine. We weren’t really involved that much at that point – it was mostly Joe – and we had moved our office to 5th avenue. But it’s still hard to describe. And what’s happened with September 11th…. It’s become everyone’s experience. Even people who have never even been there.

And that’s the great thing about humanity – that everyone came together and was affected by it. But when you’re so close to it, the way we were, it’s almost like they can’t even hear it. How can that be? It doesn’t seem possible. So needless to say, it was very painful.