Overcoming Barriers: Chef Armando Serrano’s Road to Become a Hospital Chef
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15, 2021), we are recognizing some of Morrison Healthcare’s amazing chefs with Hispanic or Latinx heritage. By sharing their stories and culture, we can come together through food, family, and community.
Language is about more than the spoken word. We often speak through our actions and choices. For Chef Armando Serrano, he has learned to speak through the food he prepares. Every day he gives diners at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago a piece of his heritage.
Born in Chicago, Serrano moved to his parent’s home in Mexico when he was young. He returned to Chicago at 16 but found new challenges.
“I didn’t speak the language,” Serrano said. “It’s important for a chef to be able to communicate with his team, so I knew I had to learn English. It has been a hard road. I wanted to give up hundreds of times, but my dream was to be a chef, so I stuck with it.”
It took two and a half years for Serrano to become fluent. While working a full-time job in a restaurant, he took classes at night, started listening to English-language music, and practice incessantly on his speech.
“We all have our passions. We are all equal. Even though I am living in America and speaking English, it has always been important for me not to lose who I am and where I come from.”
His origins, like many chefs of Hispanic descent, started with family. Serrano learned to cook from his mother.
“My father loved food, so she was always cooking,” Serrano said. “I tried everything and learned the flavors. As I got older, cooking became a necessity. When I was in school, I started working in a restaurant. That’s where I fell in love with cooking as a profession.”
From his mother’s kitchen to his first job at a Mexican restaurant, Serrano saw the impact food has on people. And people took notice of his skill. At 17, his cooking was noticed by a Compass Group executive who was eating at Serrano’s restaurant.
“He asked to speak to the chef,” Serrano recalled. “I was worried. I thought I had done something wrong. Instead, he gave me his card and told me if I wanted a job to call him.”
Serrano took some time to think about it. Then a month later, called him back and ultimately took a job at Xavier University, working on the higher education side of foodservice. He worked his way up, being promoted each time he mastered a new skill.
Becoming a Hospital Chef
After culinary school, his culinary journey took him to healthcare.
“I didn’t know anything about healthcare when I took my first job with Morrison, but I fell in love with the job.”
He has since held multiple positions at Morrison Healthcare, each time bringing a commitment to patients and wellness.
“People don’t always recognize the importance of the foodservice and the impact it has on patients. We are proud of what we do. I see an impact of my work and feel a connection with the patients. It’s amazing that we can make people happy through food.”
It’s a focus on authenticity that is bringing diners back time and again. Each dish Serrano serves is a piece of his heritage on display. It is a representation of his passion for food, the celebration of culture, and the love of people.
“My mother taught me: when you cook, you cook with love. You can’t just throw something together. You have to enjoy what you do, and it will show.”
To get a taste of the flavors Serrano enjoys cooking with and a piece of his heritage, try out his recipe for chilaquiles: