Serena Romeo, exec chef of Comida Cantina, on standing her ground, the mistreatment of animals and...a second Comida
This is part one of my interview with Serena Romeo, exec chef of Comida Cantina. Part two of our interview will run in this space tomorrow.
Before her two-year stint on a food truck, Serena Romeo had never worked in a professional kitchen. But at 47, after several decades of teaching elementary-school kids and working in social services (specifically at a battered-women's legal clinic, although she also taught first-offender DUI classes), she decided it was time to turn to what she loved most: food. "My dad was born in Sicily, and food is a huge part of Italian culture, so really early on, he taught me about the importance of eating well, knowing where your food comes from and making sure that everything was as fresh as possible," recalls Romeo, now the executive chef of Comida, the Longmont cantina that Rayme Rossello opened in February.
Romeo remembers her dad coming home from work and immediately starting a pot of water on the stove, to make a stock or boil pasta. "That's the first thing he'd do when he walked through the door, then he'd take a shower, and he and my mom would finish making dinner together," she recalls. "My dad loved the control he had in the kitchen. He was the master of his domain, and he would constantly taste as he was cooking." It wasn't until she was a teenager that her dad allowed her to play a role...as taste tester. "He'd let me taste, if only to tell me that it needed more salt -- and why it needed more salt," Romeo says. "For him, it was as much about the science of cooking as it was anything else."
When Romeo was in college, she landed a job as a deck hand with the Blue and Gold Fleet in San Francisco, where she prepped, cooked and lent a helping hand in the catering department. While she stayed on deck for nearly four years, another 25 would pass before she went into another kitchen that wasn't her own. "I was living in Boulder by then," she recalls, "and went back to grad school to get my master's degree so I could teach elementary school, but in 2010, the school board decided to close the school because of low enrollment, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do now?'" Romeo interviewed for several teaching jobs but was repeatedly chided for being overqualified -- and in any case, the pay was too low to support a single mom with two kids.