Hot chef: Valerie Erwin, Geechee Girl Rice Cafe

Valier Erwin is in charge at The Geechee Girl Rice Cafe (6825 Germantown Ave., 215-843-8113). Credit: Ricardo Barros Valier Erwin is in charge at The Geechee Girl Rice Cafe (6825 Germantown Ave., 215-843-8113).
Credit: Ricardo Barros

Take a short trip outside the city to Mt. Airy and you’ll find that Germantown Avenue is teeming with hotspot restaurants. The locals know it, and the city-dwellers are starting to take notice. One spot the locals are sure to frequent is Geechee Girl Rice Café, a low country, rice-centric restaurant. Recently, we had a chance to speak with owner and chef Valerie Erwin while she was busy cooking and prepping for the restaurant’s dinner rush.

What are you cooking now?
I work on the line for every meal basically. It’s just the normal stuff that you prep for dinner.

You graduated from Princeton with a poly-sci degree. How did you end up as a chef and restaurant owner?
I was always interested in cooking. From the time that I was six or seven I remember making dinner. I always cooked, but I didn’t think of it as a career path. My first job in a restaurant was supposed to be a temporary thing, or so I thought. But I never left.

What made you bring low-country food to Mt. Airy?
When I was first thinking of opening a restaurant I drew up a business plan. I was talking to another friend – she was someone who was in the industry for a while – and she suggested making just one thing, one type of food. I was talking to my sister and she said, “You know, we could call it Geechee Girl and do rice.” And that’s how it all started.

Does your sister work with you?
She does. I have three other sisters who work with me at various amounts.

What are people missing when they sleep on the Mt. Airy dining scene?
Even though we get citywide coverage, I think we get lost in the mix compared to the places downtown. But there’s a really good mix of restaurants. There’s Avenida and the Trolley Car Diner. I think there’s a good variety in a small space, and they’re all reasonably priced. There are things that make Mt. Airy stand out, like the food co-op. People are really interested in sustainability. Our restaurant belongs to Fair Food, for instance.

Do you have a favorite spring ingredient?
Rhubarb is one that’s in right now. And a big spring thing is peas. Local peas aren’t usually around until June, though. I usually associate them with Father’s Day.

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