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Breaking Bread with Chef Johnathan Rodriguez

Walk In Talk: the restaurant life

Walk In Talk: Chef Johnathan Rodriguez
Chef Johnathan Rodriguez at Sal Y MarJohn Hernandez (Ibis Images)

Chef Johnathan Rodriguez began his career in the kitchen in New York over 18 years ago, but he didn’t quite start cooking in the kitchen as you’d think. After high school, he started as a dishwasher and taking the garbage out. One day, the Chef had no one staff and was about to close for the night. This was Johnathan’s chance. He convinced the chef to put him on the line, as he had been studying everyone’s stations while he did his dishwashing job. Between the Chef, one other guy and Johnathan, they pulled off 300 covers. And this is only the beginning…

Let’s get to know Chef Johnathan Rodriguez a little better as he sincerely answers Carl Fiadini’s Rapid Fire questions on this episode of Walk In Talk How Family Influences Passion: Chef Johnathan Rodriguez.

Rapid Fire Questions

Carl: “…Chef, where does your family come from? What is your heritage?”

Chef Johnathan: “So my heritage is beautiful. Definitely a split. So I have Puerto Rican and Italian. More of a northern Italian style and we have both of the best worlds they say. Because we have that beautiful culture of that Latin flavor and that Latinseasoning you know and then you got your enhanced Italians, the heavy lasagnas and the pastas and the meatballs. So those are my two beautiful cultures.”

Carl: “How does your heritage affect your cooking style?”

Chef Johnathan: “…Prior to see my parents’ cooking and how they influence their seasonings, they really cross utilize each other’s styles. So, for example, I would eat a beautiful pork chop and then put it in pasta. So they would really mesh them and marry them. It was good to see that growing up. I would say that today, now, it’s pretty easy to influence both cultures.”

Carl: “Your family is unique, and therefore you must have a favorite dish to eat, a favorite cuisine? What is it, and how does that affect what your favorite cuisine to cook is?”

Chef Johnathan: “That’s a pretty good one. For me, I just love food period. What I gravitate to for now, what I really go to… I would say Spanish would be my favorite cuisine. The reason why is because, Spanish (Latin), you have a lot of different impact flavors. It’s something you can really feal. For every dish that you take a bite, I feel like the seasonings are empoweringversus when you’re having a spaghetti marinara. It’s just the same consistency when you’re eating spaghetti marinara, versus when you’re eating arroz con habichuela with some pernil and the whole flavor just enlightens your mouth. I would say Spanish (Latin) is my favorite cuisine.”

Carl: “Let’s talk about your role here at Sal y Mar (Midtown Tampa, FL). What are you doing here on property?”

Chef Johnathan: “So my specific role here, I’m the Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director. I’m here to give one of the best experiences for a rooftop property. Here at Sal Y Mar, we not only have wonderful Latin style cuisines, but we also have a beautiful event space where we can host your next wedding. We are also on top of a hotel, which I also oversee, which are Element by Westin, and the Aloft by Marriott.”

Carl: “Favorite drink right now?”

Chef Johnathan: “Come on now. The number one drink in the world. The Old-Fashioned.”

Carl: “Chef, how did your family influence the way you run your kitchen?”

Chef Johnathan: “So the way my family helped me run my kitchen… they were really on the point of structure. They were very big on structure and organization was the key. You know, my dad was retired military, my mom was a retired nurse. They both worked very much so, but they were very organized, very structured. They way that our household was on that effect. It was always like a routine. From the day I was probably a baby until now. To this day, I go to my mother and father’s house and it’s such a routine.”

Carl: “So that upbringing, it prepared you to lead people. In what way did that form?”

Chef Johnathan: “It prepared me to be more organized, more structured, and I would say the loving in my family is what made me feel more loving towards my team. And it really empowered that for me because I didn’t want to look at my team as just workers, I wanted my team to feel more of a fun in the workplace. That’s what my upbringing brought. It really made me feel like I had a really good childhood and I thank my parents for that very much so. It prepared me to not only be a good son to them but also just trying to be the best leader for my family at work.

Carl: “What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?”

Chef Johnathan: “The best piece of advice that has ever been given to me has been from my dad. My dad has been there for a while and he’s… he’s just a hard worker and he really did what he was supposed to do for our family and, it just… at one time in my career I didn’t feel like I was going to be successful and my dad pulled me to the side, he says, ‘don’t stop what you’re doing, go at it because I believe in you and I think you’re going to be very successful and I love you as my son and I want growth to come out of you because I know that’s what you’re about’ and it was something that I just never forgot and that was my fuel. It came from my dad and what son doesn’t want to make their father proud, right? And I’m so blessed to be where I’m at today. I’m with a very loving team. I’ve gotten to be able to be at this caliber and if it wouldn’t have been for my dad to pull me to the side and say don’t quit, I don’t think I’d be who I am.”

Carl: Chef you’re a dear friend, and I sincerely appreciate your candidness. I feel like what you… legitimately feel like what you shared now, with this, will influence culinarians coming up. Because that’s beautiful, and thank you…”

Chef Johnathan: “Thank you.”

After his interesting start in New York, Chef Johnathan Rodriguez made his way to Florida where his career continued to flourish and really take off. He’s worked at big name hotels, theme park resorts, fine dining establishments, and even been a Personal Chef for a high-profile public figure. He’s now brought his talents and wealth of knowledge to Sal Y Mar in Midtown Tampa, Florida.

Go check out the amazing views from Sal y Mar Rooftop in Tampa, FL and experience a taste of Chef Johnathan’s unique blends of Latin flavors.
Deconstructed Paella - dish by Chef Johnathan RodriguezJohn Hernandez (Ibis Images)

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