Hot Chef: Gina Rodriguez of Serrano showcases summer menu

Chef Gina Rodriguez. Credit: Felicia Perretti
Chef Gina Rodriguez has a lighter menu for summer at Serrano.
Credit: Felicia Perretti

Chef Gina Rodriguez doesn’t slow down. Originally from Arizona, she’s worked in the southwest, San Diego and New Orleans. Rodriguez received the AAA 5 Diamond award in 2008 — the only woman to receive one that year. She also competed on an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped,” and announced her most recent class at COOK (Taco Tuesday on July 2). Her day job is executive chef at Serrano, where she rewrote the menu to showcase lighter summer selections. She also revamped the menu at Serrano’s sister spot, Sassafrass. Somehow she found time to chat with us.

You went to school for psychology long before you went to culinary school. What made you change paths?
I almost went into banking — because when you’re 18, you don’t know anything yet. But I ended up taking psychology classes and got a tech entry-level job in the behavioral health industry. I eventually moved from tech to case manager when I got my degree, and I was a supervisor for a project I created. Then one day I woke up and thought about how much I really loved cooking. I applied to culinary school and when I got the letter that said I was accepted, I knew my life was going to change.

What brought you to Philly?
I came to open Kokopelli, which was at 19th and Chestnut. I got in touch with these two guys who were putting together a menu and they needed someone who knew authentic Southwest food. I was talking to them for about a month, bouncing ideas around. I came out for a tasting and they hired me that day.

And then you worked at Max and David’s and now you’ve been at Serrano for about a year. So you’ve been in Philly for three years. What has surprised you about the city?
Oh, all kinds of things. When you’re far away from the city you get this impression that it’s colder and the people are meaner. But that isn’t true at all.

What kind of things do you still want to do or see in Philly?
There’s a ton of things I still want to do. I want to go on one of those big tour bus things. You know, where you’re riding around with some big cheesy group and someone is at the front telling you crazy stories about the little houses and the history of the city. But by the time I get a day off I usually veg out and make a big pot of soup.


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