Jennifer Sherman Robson, 39, of South Philadelphia, who fell in love with Philadelphia and worked as a chef at several city restaurants, died Tuesday, July 4, at her parents' home in Haddon Township after a brief fight with cancer.
Her most recent restaurant work was at Bing Bing Dim Sum and Cheu Noodle Bar. She also worked for six years as the head chef at Prohibition Taproom.
As a student at Haddon Township High School, Ms. Robson, known to family and friends as "Jen" or "Sherm," often sneaked away on the PATCO High-Speed Line to explore Philadelphia, said sister Christine Sherman, an editor at the Daily News and Inquirer.
"She was a pioneer in the family about going to the city," Sherman said. "She used to sneak out and get on the train and go to South Street.
"She was always very adventurous, always independent, and had her own mind," she added. "She followed the beat of her own drum."
Ms. Robson was born Sept. 2, 1977, the second of four children of Robert and Susan Sherman. After high school, she attended Widener University for a year and transferred to Rowan University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in biology.
While in college, she worked for a time at the Academy of Natural Sciences, handling snakes and rabbits and working in the butterfly exhibit. After graduating from Rowan, she went to work for an environmental company in Horsham, testing landfills.
About this time, she moved to South Philadelphia and decided to switch careers into the food industry. Her first job was with Aramark, working at 1920 Commons, the largest café on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
She considered herself a pioneer of biking in the city and was often one of the few young women who regularly biked to work. Her sister said she would encourage other people, especially women, to use their bikes to get around the city.
Ms. Robson left her job at Aramark to travel across the country for a few months to mark her 30th birthday. When she returned from her trip, she stepped into the Philly food scene, first at Prohibition. She later realized a dream to work with Asian fusion cuisine.
Ben Puchowitz, owner of Cheu Noodle Bar and Bing Bing Dim Sum, said Ms. Robson worked for him at both restaurants for about two years.
"She was always smiling and had a great attitude," Puchowitz said. "She was one of my favorite people, not just as an employee, but one of my favorite people I've met in this industry. She was just really smart and had a good viewpoint on life. She was a really great person."
Ms. Robson learned on the job, from books and from fellow Philly chefs. "We grew up in an Italian family and food was a very big part of our lives," her sister said. "She had been cooking dinner for our family since she was in the fourth grade."
She made many friends in the food industry, from the front of the house to the dishwashers. She even taught herself Spanish to communicate with immigrant workers.
Her sister added: "She truly loved to provide people with enjoyable food and good times; she loved planning parties and events. Living in South Philly, she would always have an open house on New Year's Day for people who were going to the Mummers Parade, and cook all day for her visitors."
Ms. Robson realized another dream of hers in 2015, when she became pregnant; she left her job at Bing Bing shortly before giving birth to a son, Levon William. She took a job at Fetch pet care, checking in on city cats and dogs while their owners were away, until her illness forced her to give up the job.
Ms. Robson loved music and attending shows around the city and the country. She once estimated that she attended about 80 Phish concerts. "She was a hippie at heart and embodied peace, love, and acceptance of everyone," Sherman said.
Ms. Robson loved to garden on her rooftop deck in South Philly. She was a member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and volunteered in the butterfly garden at the Philadelphia Flower Show. She was a supporter of urban farming and Greensgrow Farms in Kensington, often volunteering at the farm's fall festival. She got married at Greensgrow, to William Robson, in 2014.
In addition to her husband, son, sister and parents, Ms. Robson is survived by another sister, Elizabeth; a brother, Robert; and grandparents Dominick and Irene Cirucci.
A visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, July 10, at St. Vincent Pallotti Church, 901 Hopkins Rd., Haddon Township. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11 a.m.