felipe rojas-lombardi lgbtq chef | Big Queer Food Fest

Historical Chef Spotlight: Rediscovering Felipe Rojas-Lombardi: America's Culinary Trailblazer


In the bustling streets of New York City, amidst the glamour and glitz, there existed a hidden gem that radiated brilliance in the form of flavors and creativity. Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, a spirited immigrant from Peru, graced the culinary world with his extraordinary talent, earning the title of America's most anonymous celebrity chef.

Picture this: It was the year 1982, when culinary legend James Beard learned that his former assistant, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, planned to open a tapas bar called the Ballroom in the heart of New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Beard was a bit perplexed by the idea of a "topless bar," but he embraced it nonetheless, supporting his protégé's vision.

Rojas-Lombardi, a diminutive, ruggedly handsome man with ink-black hair, often encountered bewildered gazes when he introduced the concept of tapas to the people of New York. The traditional Spanish style of serving small plates was a foreign concept at the time. Imagine savoring succulent roasted eggplants drizzled with lime juice, garlic, and a medley of spices, or relishing red beans tossed with parsley and caracoles (yes, snails!) cooked in a rich blend of flavors. Rojas-Lombardi even dared to introduce Peruvian stew with tiny quinoa pearls resembling tadpoles, a novelty that took America by surprise.

Celebrating the Culinary Legacy of Felipe Rojas-Lombardi: America's Beloved Anonymous Celebrity Chef

The Ballroom became more than a mere eatery. It transformed into a vibrant cabaret-restaurant where legendary performers like Blossom Dearie and Peggy Lee graced the stage, while sausages and pheasant carcasses hung from the ceiling, adding whimsical flair. The establishment became a favorite haunt for the city's theater crowd, where they celebrated in style. In fact, the Ballroom was rated as the number one spot for parties by NY Magazine—a testament to its allure.

James Beard, a kindred spirit to Rojas-Lombardi as both were openly gay men, frequented the Ballroom, cherishing the friendship and bond they shared. Beard, renowned as the founding chef of Dean & Deluca, where he introduced America to delectable pasta salads, maintained a close relationship with Rojas-Lombardi until his own passing in 1985. Tragically, just six years later, Rojas-Lombardi's light flickered out at the young age of 46.

Regrettably, Rojas-Lombardi's name slipped through the cracks of history's memory. Despite being commemorated in the 2014 "Celebrity Chefs Forever" stamp collection by the United States Postal Service alongside culinary icons like Beard and Julia Child, Rojas-Lombardi remained relatively unknown to the general public. However, we are here to change that.

Ana Sofia Peláez, a talented food writer, undertook the task of rediscovering Rojas-Lombardi's remarkable journey. Delving into archives and uncovering stories, she unearthed the trailblazing spirit that dwelled within him. From his tenure at the James Beard School to his role as executive chef at New York magazine's test kitchen, Rojas-Lombardi left an indelible mark. He authored cookbooks, including the first-ever talking cookbook, captivating audiences with his culinary prowess.

In the realm of gastronomy, Rojas-Lombardi's innovative spirit shone. As the founding chef of Dean & Deluca, he introduced America to the concept of pasta salads and dared to serve cold pasta in salad form, revolutionizing the culinary scene. At the Ballroom, he dazzled diners with tapas ranging from chicken escabeche to grilled blood sausage—each dish

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