Adriana De La Rosa cooks up a storm


Mia Calzolaio and Liliana Greyf

Head Cashier FLIK Staff Member Adriana De La Rosa watches hundreds of students eat stewed chicken with rice and fried plantains in the Cohen Dining Commons every week. Then, she goes home and cooks the same dish for her family. 

When De La Rosa picked up the phone for an interview for this article, she was standing in front of the stove, watching over a pot. “It’s a secret in my family, but they all like what I cook,” she said. Most of her recipes originate in the Dominican Republic, where she was born and raised.

De La Rosa and her nine siblings grew up in Santiago in the Dominican Republic. Her childhood was busy but exciting; because she was the second child and oldest daughter of the family, she helped her mother around the house, preparing bottles for the younger children, changing diapers, and doing laundry.

De La Rosa went to school in the mornings from seven to noon and then came home to do chores. “In the afternoon, I would help my mother because we were a lot,” she said. “But we also had fun, playing around in the backyard with all my cousins and siblings.”

Specifically, De La Rosa and her family loved to play baseball, she said. Every young person in her family would play together when school was over, and it was always her favorite activity growing up.

When she was 11, her father moved to New York, hoping to attain a green card that would allow his family to join him in the United States. It was not until six years later, when De La Rosa was 17, that her father’s dream came true.

After graduating from high school in the Dominican Republic, De La Rosa moved to the U.S. with her mother and brothers, leaving her sisters behind. “To be honest, when I came here, I didn’t like it,” she said. “Everything was so different from the Dominican Republic.”

De La Rosa was unhappy with her new home, so after three long months, her family allowed her to return to the Dominican Republic. 

At home in the Dominican Republic, she fell in love and married her first husband at 18, she said. Soon after that, she became pregnant with her first daughter.

Her family wanted her to return to the United States. Just before the baby was due, she flew back to meet her parents in New York City, where her first daughter, Janill, was born. 

De La Rosa began searching for work when her daughter turned two, she said. She started working at a clothing factory in the Bronx, packaging merchandise and shipping it to people’s homes.

Over the course of the next 11 years, De La Rosa switched jobs twice, first to an Amish farmer’s market and then to another clothing factory. Later, she began to work for FLIK Independent School Dining, which assigned her to work at Horace Mann.

De La Rosa has worked at the school for 18 years, manning various locations in the cafeteria such as the cashier, the barbecue station, and the hot food line. “I love my job because over there it’s like a family,” she said. “My coworkers, we help each other.” 

De La Rosa is particularly fond of the interactions she has had with students as a cashier. “I feel happy when I see them looking around and I just go and give them suggestions,” she said.  “If they [need] something, I’ll be there for them because that’s part of my job,” she said. 

At home, she makes dishes like sancocho — a stew with different types of meat and root vegetables — for her family. 

Over the last two decades, De La Rosa has had two more daughters. Today, her children are 31, 23, and 19 years old. “They are too close — my daughters, they are everything together,” she said. 

When her eldest daughter moved out of the house, her family was disappointed. However, the sadness of her daughter’s departure was quickly overshadowed by the birth of her granddaughter Jenalyn, who turns three this month. “Life moves on,” De La Rosa said.

Usually, De La Rosa lives only with her husband and two youngest daughters; however, her third daughter recently brought her granddaughter Jenalyn over to visit this month. Now, she spends most of her time with the youngest member of her household. 

The two watch cartoons, and Jenalyn often asks De La Rosa for snacks and drinks. One time, when De La Rosa went to watch television in her own room, her granddaughter objected. Instead, De La Rosa said, Jenalyn commanded: “No, Mama, you need to sit down with me.”

De La Rosa is not only close with the members of her family who live in New York; the entirety of her large family has a group chat on WhatsApp over which they interact daily. When they are together, her family likes to cook, she said. 

In the spring, De La Rosa plans to visit family in Orlando. She travels back to her house in the Dominican Republic during time off from work, spending up to two months there at a time. When she visits, she attends athletic events with her other family members, supporting youth softball and basketball teams through donations of equipment and clothing.

In the United States, De La Rosa has kept up with baseball. She currently lives adjacent to Yankee Stadium, where, pre-COVID-19, her family often attended games. “Derek Jeter, when he was there, he was my favorite one,” she said.

Before hanging up the phone, De La Rosa added one request: “When you go to the cafeteria, come say ‘Hey, Adriana!’ Come say hi.”