Her star is on the rise | Cape Cod LIFE August 2016

Photography by Dom Casserly

“She comes across as being a badass,” says Penny Davidi, a celebrity chef and culinary specialist with US Foods, based in Beverly Hills, California, and a “Comeback Kitchen” co-contestant. “But she’s the biggest softie and even kind of a girly girl.” Chefs participating in “Comeback Kitchen” are sequestered in a hotel for three weeks. They are not allowed to watch TV, talk on the phone, or even read a book. “You’re supposed to just keep to yourself, before competing on the air, and Michele and I and some of the others really got to know each other,” Davidi says. “Michele is fun, and she’s seriously dedicated to her craft. She’s good on her toes and able to think fast. On the show, she nailed it every time.”

While in Boston, Ragussis says she was browsing Craigslist when she saw the advertisement for an executive chef at Central House. “I had to laugh,” she says, “because when I was 15 I actually ran away to P-town, and I always told myself I’d come back and live here. The manager happened to be in Boston that day.” Ragussis and Murray hit it off immediately. “We’re both Italian,” she says. “He gives me complete freedom to cook whatever I want.”

Ragussis invited James Cunningham, her sous-chef at The Pearl, to work in the same role at Central House. “I make all the sauces, he makes the pastas and desserts. Together we make a great combo,” she says. “Not to brag, but we had people who had just come from traveling in Italy, and when I came out and asked how everything was, they said, ‘This is the best pasta we’ve ever had.’ ”

The TV cooking show veteran plans to produce her own cooking show one day. “It’ll be about New England cooking,” Ragussis says. “Every place in New England is so unique, so different from each other. I want to bring back hand-to-pot. I’ll go to a farm, pick out what I want, and show people how to make it.” She has already embarked on a show in P-town called “Funny Food,” in which she’ll combine comedy and food, as she teaches comedians how to cook.

Ragussis says she can’t imagine not cooking. “It’s such a great way to express myself,” she says. “I love to please my friends. Cooking is a lot of love to be giving out. And being a chef, I get to do it for thousands of people.”