Chef Jennifer “Fear” Zavala on Watermelon Radishes, Uno, and the Best and Worst Things About South Philly

Known for cannabis catering, vegan meatballs and tamales, here she reveals her choices for most underrated restaurants and overrated chef.

jennifer zavala

Chef Jennifer Zavala. Illustration by Andy Friedman

My full name is … Jennifer Doreen Feher-Zavala.

My nickname is … Jen Fear. My husband’s last name is Feher — it’s German — but people can’t say it right. They say “Fear.” And I became Jen Fear.

My worst subject in high school was … all of them. I dropped out in 10th grade.

My ethnic background is … Mexican (my dad), and I initially thought my mom was Italian. I have pictures of her holding up an “Italian Bitch” shirt, but she’s actually Bulgarian.

My kids are always … asking me for money. I feel like I have 17 kids, but I only have two.

The best thing about South Philly is … that it makes me laugh every day. I once almost got killed over vegan meatballs. I’ve been accused of being an antifa warlord. But at the same time, I’ve been asked to be a Mummer. People are crazy.

The worst thing about South Philly is … the Target. And the Columbus statue.

The most underrated restaurants in the city are … Taqueria La Prima, Neighborhood Ramen and Huda.

The most overrated chef is … the one who has made millions and yet continues to complain about the restaurant industry and about Jim Kenney. I think you know who I am talking about.

I got my first tattoo … when I was 14. By the time I’m 50, I want literally everything tattooed, face and all. It’s Botox or that.

If you want to try my cooking, you can find me at … Underground Arts or on Instagram @FoxyLadyChef.

Women in the restaurant industry … need to be louder.

A restaurant trend I could do without is … watermelon radish. And complicated ordering processes. To get a pizza, sometimes you have to follow a link to a schedule that takes you to another link, and then you have to go to a Venmo. Forget it.

My first job in life … was at a CITGO gas station. I got fired because I didn’t charge my friends for cigarettes.

The first Philly restaurant I worked in was … Applebee’s on Aramingo Avenue.

I like to listen to … old-school hip-hop, death metal and hardcore. And the roar from the stadium, when that comes back.

When I want to relax … I smoke weed and leave Philadelphia. It’s hard to relax here.

One game you will not beat me at is … Uno. I refuse to lose.

If you gave me $1 million tomorrow, I would … bail out nonviolent drug offenders and invest in a cannabis farm.

My favorite TV show is … Real Housewives. All of them.

If you really want to piss me off … don’t use your turn signal.

If you force me to play Fuck, Marry, Kill with Rocky, Drago and Paulie; Hall, Oates and Questlove; and Pat’s, Geno’s and John’s, I will … fuck Drago, marry Rocky, kill Paulie; Fuck Oates — because: mustache — marry Questlove, kill Hall. And I’d kill Geno’s, marry Pat’s, fuck John’s — because: pork.

The last time I had fast food was … just a week ago. Taco Bell. Four hard-shell tacos. Fire Sauce.

Social media is … integral to my business. But not real.

One thing most people get wrong about me is that … I am aggressive, pushy and problematic. That’s not me. Don’t get me wrong: I will fuck you up. But I’m actually very chill. Generally.

Published as “One of Us: Jennifer ‘Fear’ Zavala” in the November 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.