Q&A: DC Cocktail Star Gina Chersevani Talks Guy Fieri and Her New Maryland Farm

Starting tonight, Chersevani will again compete on Food Network show Guy's Grocery Games.

Contestant Gina Chersevani grills lobster, as seen on Guy's Grocery Games, Season 28. Photograph courtesy of Food Network.

Veteran bartender Gina Chersevani is headed back to Flavortown. Specifically, the Food Network show Guy’s Grocery Games, in which host Guy Fieri challenges contestants to grocery-shop and make meals with odd ingredients in a limited amount of time. Chersevani, who owns DC cocktail/bagel shops Buffalo & Bergen and Union Market bar Last Call, won Fieri’s cooking competition back in November. Starting tonight, she will appear on a special five-episode summer tournament.  

Chersevani is best known for her creative drinks (before she opened her own places, she got attention for the cocktails at Rasika and the late Poste), but her turn on the show has drawn attention to her kitchen skills. Here, she talks about meeting Guy Fieri, ditching the city to buy a Frederick County farmhouse, and how being a mom sharpened her competitive edge.

What made you decide to compete in Guy’s Grocery Games—a cooking showlast year?

“A lot of people don’t know that I come from a restaurant background. My father had worked at a restaurant on Queens Boulevard for 50 years of his life as an Italian chef. My whole family grew up in the restaurant business. After being in college, bartending to me was the fun and the crazy that I loved. And you know what, what’s not not to love?”

“When I opened Buffalo & Bergen, we came up with the concept, and it was all of my food and my dad’s food. It is all of our recipes. They [Food Network] asked me to apply for the show, and I got chosen. They were saying they wanted me to come on because this is a great story. ‘Everyone knows you for the bar, but this is your restaurant, these are your recipes, this is your food, show us what you can do.’ Then, I won.”

What was it like to compete?

“It’s hard. One hundred percent it is hard. That clock is real. That grocery store is literally the size of a normal grocery store, it’s huge. You have to run, you have to shop. You have to do all the things and, legitimately, it was so nerve-wracking. I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, you want me to run?’ I don’t run. I don’t run because I can’t run, but I’m going to run on the show, and I did. It takes you out of your comfort zone.”

“I think having two children and always having to put a meal on the table in 20 minutes between soccer and dance was a really helpful strategic move for me. That was my competitive edge, being a mom.”

How did winning the show affect your career?’

“People in DC are so spoiled. We have Top Chef people and Michelin star people. That’s why it is so funny to me when I get people that religiously watch the Food Network, and they’ll come in and say they drove all the way from North Carolina. Or they say, ‘We came from Ohio. We love Guy’s Grocery Games.’ It’s really weird and amazing.”

What was Guy Fieri like?

“Sometimes I think he gets a bad rap because you have to be more animated than you normally would be when making TV. You have to be bigger because the cameras make you very small. I found him to be very fascinating, very down-to-earth, and very knowledgeable. He can really cook. On his show, he’ll do the challenge along with the competitors as people get knocked out, and he’s really talented.”

You recently moved to a farm after living in the city your entire life. How has your lifestyle changed?

“I bought a house from 1767—it’s one of the original founders’ houses of Middletown, Maryland. I lived in Capitol Hill for 20 years, then College Park for three years, then we moved to this farm. It’s been jarring. I used to love to garden, and I had like, two tomato plants. Well, now I have a row of tomato plants. Do you know how much a row of tomato plants produces? So many tomatoes! Not only did we jar all the tomato sauce for my husband’s new concept, but we gave them away, we brought them to work, we ran tomato specials. Then we got into chickens, and I have all these fresh eggs that we use for the restaurants. This year, I added 24 ducklings, so we can have duck-egg specials on bagels.”

Has it changed your cooking style?

“My cooking style was always sourcing the best ingredients that you possibly can, but now I have a chance to grow the ingredients that I want, and that’s really a game changer. It’s a totally different thing when you get the egg from your own place, you’re picking up the eggs yourself, you’re washing the eggs, you’re packaging the eggs, and you’re taking the eggs to work. I feel like I take more care of my ingredients and less is more. Just putting a touch of the right salt on it to finish it is more than enough. You don’t need to slather cheese, honey, and chili.”

You’ve helped restaurants with their cocktail programs in the past. Are you still consulting on projects like that?

“I did Santa Rosa, and I’ve stepped off that project only because they’re open. I think the pandemic has been hard enough on restaurateurs and to have a consulting job on the side is kind of an epic task at this point. It’s time to concentrate on what Buffalo and Bergen is, and what Last Call is. I also have two little girls, they’re seven and eight, and this is prime time for mom-ing at its best.”

Sophia Young
Editorial Fellow