Behind the Line with Friday Saturday Sunday’s Chef de Cuisine Sashia Liriano
The Rittenhouse restaurant’s longtime team member talks James Beard, the influence Dominican food has on her cooking, and the importance of mentorship.
Behind the Line is Foobooz’s interview series with the people who make up Philly’s dynamic food and beverage scene. For the complete archives, go here.
In some Philly kitchens, a year is enough to put a cook among the most tenured team members. By comparison, Sashia Liriano has been at Friday Saturday Sunday since Chad and Hanna Williams bought and reopened the iconic restaurant at the end of 2016.
As the chef de cuisine, Liriano works closely with Williams to develop the menu, guide the staff, order ingredients and run the line each night. She has played a major role in the restaurant’s recent nomination for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurant award. I recently sat down with Sashia to talk about the nomination, the importance of mentorship, and how her Dominican background informs her cooking.
I grew up in … the Bronx.
I ended up working in the industry because … My dad started working in restaurants when he came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, so I just grew up around it. I was the oldest so I ended up cooking a lot for my siblings, and it was just something that always brought my family together. All of our traditional dishes were centered around people coming over for dinner, like sancocho or oxtail, and black beans or rice or braised goat. The most beautiful moments of my life were surrounded by food.
I came to Philly because … I went to the Art Institute and graduated with a degree in culinary management, and then great opportunities were presented to me when I graduated, so I stayed.
I met Chad Williams … when I was working at a different restaurant, before he and Hanna opened Friday Saturday Sunday. He’s been a mentor to me since then, and when he told me he was opening his own place, I knew I wanted to work there.
My cooking is informed by … my childhood and the flavors that would pop when I was a kid. Like, when we first opened, I came up with his blood sausage pasta which was actually an ode to my mom. Every time we would go to the Dominican Republic as a kid, my uncles knew how much my mom loved blood sausage. So the first thing they would do is be like, “Hey, I have something for you.” And it was always the blood sausage, and she would eat it with peppers and plantains. And for me, as a kid, I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s so gross.” But then as I got older, a lot of what I do is based around things that I want for my family and the love that I have for them. So I made that dish specifically thinking about my mother. People really liked that dish and it’s such a gratifying experience to see how people are receptive to the things you love.
The influence the Dominican Republic has on my food is … very broad. It’s exciting to kind of, without saying it, show people how there are so many ingredients and spices and flavors that we have in Dominican Republic that people wouldn’t even think of. Most people in America think it’s like rice, beans, chicken and plantains. But they don’t know about all the influences that we’ve had.
The restaurant’s James Beard nomination has been … kind of a rollercoaster. I can’t speak for how everyone else feels, but I feel almost relieved, like it confirms that we’re doing something right. Like, if I’m going to be tired, I better be excellent.
The thing that has kept me at Friday Saturday Sunday for so long is … Chad’s mentorship. In moments where I feel stuck, like when the new season’s produce comes in, and I’m like “I have to figure out a dish because this is in season,” he would just be like, “Listen, we always agreed that we just wanted to do something with integrity, that we weren’t just doing things for the sake of doing things.” So it is always easy to be human and not have these crazy expectations and just do food that we are always proud of.
At Friday Saturday Sunday, I’m most proud of … the fact that we’re a team. The front of the house works extremely hard, like no front of the house that I’ve ever seen in my life. Back of the house, we’re all in sync, we help each other. We’re all moving with one purpose, which is the most that you could ever ask for.