At SoJu restaurant in Garfield (Pittsburgh), Chef Fernando Ríos was busy prepping to delight the public on Sunday with Freakin Rican BBQ and his offering of authentic Puerto Rican dishes. The crowd began lining down the block at 4pm, wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines under the burning sun.
Even in the high heat, the vibe was exciting and no one seemed to mind the long wait. The only thought – getting a taste of rice with gandules, beans, roast pork, tostones, grilled octopus with avocado salad, or any of the other flavorful menu options.
“Cooking Puerto Rican food brings me so much joy. Puerto Ricans play a huge role in our nation; I love teaching Americans about our culture so it’s not a mystery to them. I want to help them see us for who we are and not just as some strange label,” said Chef Ríos.
Born in Pittsburgh, Fernando often travelled to visit family in New York’s Puerto Rican community. There he watched closely as family and friends prepared authentic dishes. As the years passed, his love for sharing culinary creations with acquaintances became one of the reasons he decided to become a chef.
Fernando really missed Puerto Rican food when he was in the ‘Burgh. He made it a personal goal to have the locals experience the dishes he loves, which have influenced his culinary journey. The opportunity came sooner than he expected!
When Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Chef Fernando felt compelled to help. Putting his talent to use, he held a barbecue in Wilkins Township to aid with recovery efforts. Word spread on social media and the event was a success in more ways than he expected:
- Monetary donations for the cause went over $1000
- People donated large quantities of non-perishable products that were later shipped to the island
- Barbecue sales alone reached over $2000
- People began talking about a new find – Puerto Rican food in Pittsburgh!
Following this event, and due to popular demand, Freakin Rican BBQ began hosting summer cook-ups and pop-up food events at local restaurants the next two years. Due to Covid-19, the events for 2020 had been postponed. Then in July Fernando finally announced his much anticipated return to Garfield in August with hopes to plan another BBQ soon.
“One of the things I love about the area near Garfield is the diversity. It makes me incredibly proud to see locals of different ethnic backgrounds, Puerto Ricans, other Latinxs, and people from the LGBTQ community all coming together to enjoy my food at the pop ups,” shared Ríos.
Gracias Chef Fernando and Freakin Rican BBQ for sharing delicious Puerto Rican food with our community.
Fernando Ríos is a Sous Chef at SoJu located at 4923 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224. Connect with Freakin Rican BBQ on social media here to find out about their next pop up event.