When you’re around Robyn Almodovar, you can’t miss her.
With a unique head of curly hair, she speaks her mind without a filter and cooks pretty damn good food. Around town, you may have had a chance to try out her dishes from black-and-white food truck, Palate Party.
Or maybe you recognize her from TV -- she was a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen in 2010 and recently won Chopped on Food Network. Plus, she’ll be on Cutthroat Kitchen and Camp Cutthroat with Alton Brown.
Really, it’s like she’s everywhere, standing out as not just a female, Italian-Puerto Rican chef, but also an out chef.
“I’ve been noticing a lot of female chefs coming out, a lot of strong female chefs,” she said about the typically male-dominated culinary field. “I’m really excited to see the LGBT community come out even more and to have female chefs shine.”
Raised in Staten Island, Almodovar was first introduced to food by her grandmother. As a little kid, she’d stand on a chair to learn how to make meatballs and then threw them into a pot of sauce. Her very first dish she cooked all by herself: scrambled eggs.
However, it was more of a chore she had to do to help out around the house and for work -- she started in the restaurant industry at 16 -- and she went into cosmetology instead. While in beauty school, she spent her nights relaxing with pot and staying up watching late night television, when she saw commercial after commercial for Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She took it as a sign.
“I dropped out of cosmetology school the next day and started culinary school two weeks later,” she said. “It was a great fit right away. Culinary school was the place I needed to be.”
Then living in Atlanta, Almodovar graduated a year-and-a-half later and decided to go to Aqua Girl in Miami during a break she had. Without many gay friends to hang out with, it was a big shock at 26 to be in a room filled with lesbians.
"I never really fit in,” she said. “I actually went to Aqua Girl and was like, holy shit! Where the fuck did all these women come from?”
In South Florida, she interviewed at area restaurants for externships and was hired at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. Oddly enough, South Florida has pumped out a number of other Hell’s Kitchen alums, including Chefs Paula DaSilva, La Tasha McCutchen, Giovanni Lucio Filippone, and Bret Hause.
Almodovar decided to take the plunge and went to an open casting call for “Hell’s Kitchen,” a cooking competition lead by legendary hot head, Chef Gordon Ramsay. Auditioning for season nine, she made it to the final round and was flown out to LA -- but didn’t make the cut.
“They broke my heart,” she remembered.
Little did she know they were saving her for season 10, and called her back. During try outs, she kept to herself in her hotel room smoking while the rest of the potential candidates partied in the pool, “going crazy.” The producer told them that they’d be drug tested when they got picked, so when she got the call she looked down at her blunt, “I thought, I guess that’s the last time I’m smoking you!”
Cooking might be her first passion, but something else that gets her talking is legalizing marijuana -- she sees how it helps with people’s anxiety and alleviating symptoms of other diseases and disorders in children, and wishes she could start a food truck that churns out food with edible marijuana.
“I’m all about Charlotte’s Webb and the CBD side of marijuana,” she said, referring to the extracts of cannabis that do not cause someone to get high. “Anything that helps kids to not have seizures and not feel pain, that’s awesome.”
She also is involved in Share Our Strength, which works to fight childhood hunger, and Florida Introduces Physical Activity and Nutrition to Youth (FLIPANY).
While she can’t start up the food truck of her dreams (“There’s too many regulations”), she does incorporate clean eating into her dishes, using farm-fresh products, pesticide-free foods, and working closely with her purveyors so she knows where all her ingredients come from.
“Everything is fresh,” she said. “That’s what we try to practice.”
But Almodovar wasn’t done with TV yet. After her year-and-a-half contract with Hell’s Kitchen was over, she filled out applications to be on Chopped on the Food Network and was cast to be in a mother-daughter episode. However, that idea was scratched and she went out to LA solo, filming the episode in January. On July 7, surrounded by friends at a watch party at Rumors in Wilton Manors (“It’s where we go when we want to have a drink,” she says), everyone watched as she defeated Executive Chef Stephen Wambach from the Four Seasons Chicago, Chef Oscar Toro of Buddakan, and Chef Robert Sevcik for the top prize of $10,000.
If you’re itching to try her food, check out her food truck, Palate Party, on Facebook or make reservations for her pop up Supper Club Thursdays at the Kitchen 305 in Sunny Isles.
“They get to taste everything that Robyn has to offer. My palate is very eclectic, so I like to cook food from all over the world.”
The eight-week program started July 23, and Almodovar hints that you may find some big name chefs in the dining room. Call 305-749-2110 or visit Kitchen305Miami.com for reservations.