Round two with Serena Romeo, exec chef of Comida Cantina
This is part two of my interview with Serena Romeo, exec chef of Comida Cantina. Read part one of my interview with Romeo.
What's your best piece of advice to culinary-school grads? Be open to learning things beyond what you learned in school and always clean up after yourself, because it really is important. And don't say "I know" when you're being corrected -- you don't know, or you wouldn't have done it to start with. Respect everyone you work with, especially the dishwasher, and be prepared to work the hardest you ever have.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Don't be afraid, and cook what you love. It doesn't matter what you prepare -- just do it from the heart, and I promise the meal will be magic-filled.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? My best friend, Angie, gave me a $10 paring/picnic knife from Crate and Barrel. I love it. The blade is capped so I can take it wherever I go...and I do.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? I like to hop on my pink bike, ride down to Cured or the Boulder Wine Merchant and pick either Will or Jeff's brain. I tell them what I'm cooking, how much I have to spend, and then let them make suggestions. We are so lucky in Boulder to have great knowledge like theirs at our fingertips -- and these guys know their stuff. I love trying new wines, and they have so much exposure to what's new and delicious. As for me, I'm actually horrible when it comes to remembering the names of wines beyond the ones that have really "rocked" my dining experience.
Favorite junk food: I'm a food snob, I'll admit it. I don't eat junk -- never have, never will. However, on a day when I've been in the hot kitchen for more hours than I care to admit, I've been known to grab either a Mexi Coke -- made with real sugar -- and a lime or a pineapple Jarritos.
Favorite childhood food memory: I have so many. I think that's what has fed my passion for wonderful food -- and I owe that to my father. He was from Italy and showed me the importance of family meals, good, fresh ingredients and knowing where your food comes from. When I was growing up, my parents never asked what I wanted for my birthday, because it was always what do you want to eat? My answer for years was the same: homemade fettuccine Alfredo, my dad's eggplant Parmesan, and then the Sacripantina cake from Stella's Bakery -- that was the best.When my father picked me up from school in North Beach, we would go to the bakery for bread, and he'd always break off the heel for me and a piece for himself, then we would either go to Little City Meats or the fish market in Chinatown, and then the last stop would be Molinar, which to this day is one of my favorite places in San Francisco for cheese, olives, wine, salami, a wink from the old Italian guy behind the counter and fresh pasta. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. That was how I learned to grocery-shop, and I still love spending a morning pedaling around town and filling my bike basket with delicious fresh treats and then riding back up the hill and creating a meal for people I love. It makes my heart feel a little like a six-year-old in the body of someone who's obviously not.