“Filipino Food: Not at its Finest, but at its Funnest” (An Interview with a Texan-Pinoy Restaurant Owner)

 

Roland and trish
Roland and Trish

This is more than just a food story. In April, Roland Miranda from Plano, Texas wrote in to Stavanger, Norway -based me of MFB, to share his personal attempt at introducing Filipino food to his fellow Texans. The name of the event rang a bell. It was “Gamatan”, Kapangpangan for “Kamayan” or eating with hands sans cutleries.

gamatan 1

Gamatan (Photo credit: Trisha & Roland Pinoy Pop-up)

I grew up in Angeles City, Pampanga. So did he. But it was only after I invited Roland of Trisha & Roland´s Pinoy Pop-ups ( now Koya’s Place Filipino Restaurant and Grill, a 75-seater restaurant in the heart of Richardson, Texas opening on Feb.1, 2017) for an interview that we connected the dots. Not only did we attend the same pre-school and elementary school in Angeles City, we discovered we’re from the same batch and had the same childhood friends! Too bad. We don’t remember each other. Even a peek at our pre-school yearbook didn’t help jog our memories. It was too long ago (lol).

Roland Miranda: HFA Pre-school               Me: HFA Pre-school

Until 1991, Angeles City was home of Clark Air Base, then the largest US military facility outside the US mainland. Roland moved to the US in his teens, after his step-father who worked for the US Air Force was discharged in Texas.

Let’s take a closer look at Roland’s journey from Angeles City, Philippines to Texas, USA. Find out how the tragic death of his eldest son has brought him closer to his family and his roots. How is he making Filipino food the “funnest” and where does he stand in the fight to make Filipino food known in Texas?

MFB: What was it like for you to move to the US in your teens? Please give us an example of a point in your life when you acutely missed Filipino food?

 RM: It was relatively easy for me to get accustomed to the move.  In fact, I was relieved because I left during my Junior Year. Relieved because the move gave me more years to be a kid.  Instead of prepping for the NCEE’s I got to be a sophomore again, with three whole years of high school to go.  I embraced the entire experience.  Growing up, I always had American friends. We had access to American TV due to the military base nearby.  Plus before I left Angeles City, there were stores that rented video tapes of American TV shows. My peers and I got hooked on these shows.  American Top 40 with Kasey Kasem was available on local radio, which had me familiar with the music that was popular here in Texas.  Country Music, on the other hand, was totally foreign.

The holidays were a different story.  The huge holiday here is the 4th of July and as far as food celebrations go, Thanksgiving takes the top billing.  Christmas is subdued, as far as celebrations go.  I was used to huge feasts: lechon (roast suckling pig), kalame (native cakes) and all other customary dishes.  The subdued feasts had me longing for Filipino food and home.

MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you to set-up Pinoy Pop-ups?

RM: I’ve always loved to cook for as far as I can remember.  Then when I got married, my wife Trisha bought me my first serious grill. I discovered I had a knack for it.  Then came the smoker – I surprised even myself on how well I smoked brisket, ribs and chicken.  But instead of potato salad and beans, I mixed in pancit (noodles) and lumpia (spring rolls).  That combo was a hit with my Texan friends.  So our family get-togethers became a chance for me to showcase my new found ability.  Later on, I discovered wet aging steaks thanks to Alton Brown and the Food Network. I learned how to create restaurant quality Good Eats.  That’s when I started hearing comments from friends and co-workers that I should think of opening my own place.  Having our two boys in school, it was easy to suppress the desire to branch out on my own.  Plus, I kind of stumbled into a Marketing career. I managed call centers that had 600 customer sales reps to being the Marketing Director for the largest commercial roofing company in the US.  Judging from the success of my group and my employers, it proved that I was quite good at it.

Then on Trisha’s birthday in 2009 our family of four took a massive hit.  We lost our oldest son, Marcus, in a car accident.  Everything in our world turned upside down.  What were once important and expected were now nothing more than distractions from the grief.  Trish and I decided early on that our focus would have to be us.  We knew our loss will be eternal and that all we want is to spend as much time as we can with each other.  Sure, extended families are important, but the focus will have to be us three, Alex our youngest son, Trish and I.  That’s it.

last picture of all four of us

Last photo of the four of them (Clockwise: Marcus, Alex, Roland and Trish)

alex trish me
Minus one: Roland, Alex and Trish

Even with this new focus – it still took me four years to walk away from Marketing.  To stay closer to home and honor my non-compete agreement, I sold cars at a store less than a half mile from home.  That again was eye opening – I realized I love dealing with different people from all walks of life.  Another surprise is that I was good at it – over 100 cars in that one year.  But as soon as the non-compete lapsed, the recruiting calls increased and soon I found myself back into Marketing.  Two positions/employers later proved that I do not have the focus or desire to serve someone else’s interest.  The mere act of showing up to work was a struggle and mix-in health issues, it was not very hard to walk away.

During my stint at my last employer is when I convinced Trish to allow me to put-up five events as an audition to convince her that I can do this for a living.  Working 60 hours at my Marketing gig a week and putting up events every two weeks, demonstrated to be difficult.  I did, however, show the love of my life, that I was right. There was a demand from Fil-Ams for our events and enough of a curiosity from Texans to have our initial seating to be overwhelmingly Anglo or non-Pinoys!

MFB: Please define your concept. How often do you hold pop-ups?

 RM: Our concept is pretty simple.  Make Filipino Cuisine, Texan friendly.  Meaning huge chunks of meat and seafood.  Bold flavors and not too fussy.  Meat and Fire!  That’s when Gamatan came into the picture.  I am no chef, barely a cook, but I can grill, roast and fry.  Harking back to the cookouts I hosted in the early years of our marriage, I added pork adobo and lumpia.  I also added Chicken Inasal as a nod to the new breed of Pinoy Foodie, coupled with the fact that I have never had it before.

Photo credit: Trisha & Roland’s Pinoy Pop-ups

We try to host events every two weeks.

MFB: Are there other Filipino food pop-ups/ establishments in Texas? How is yours different from the others?

 RM: There are less than ten restaurants in the Dallas area.  But none have really made me want to become a regular.  Let me take that back, all had me wishing I was a regular, but only one really, Palayok in Plano, do I frequent.  I visited it monthly, but now that I am doing a no carb diet, probably even less.

Our events are different, because like our tag line says, Filipino Food not at its finest but at its funnest.  I know funnest is not a word, but that adds to the fun.  We use whole cuts of meat as much as possible:  whole chicken breasts, legs, quarters, even feet!  And when we do use cuts like the pork in the adobo – I make sure I explain it to the customers.  All of the customers, so I don’t alienate anyone.   Whole cuts because Texans love to know what they are eating!  No mystery meat allowed (lol).

MFB: Which dishes are the favorites/ bestsellers? What were the comments about these dishes? 

The whole fish bring out the most oohs and ahs. Especially when the fish is impressive like a Bonito.  Predictably, the Lechon (roast suckling pig) is equally popular.  The comment I hear most from Fil-Ams is the authenticity of our Gamatan.  I really strive to provide a real experience, from the Milagrosa rice, to the banana leaves and even the sauce or condiments.  I insist we use Philippine made products.  In fact it is a point of contention between me and my assistant. She insists on using wonton wrapper as lumpia wrapper.  It does make a prettier lumpia, but it is not authentic.

Photo Credit: Trisha & Roland’s Pinoy Pop-ups

MFB: Has far is Filipino food from crossing over in Texas? What else can be done to give it a boost?

RM: Filipino food is sadly years away from becoming a crossover hit in Texas.  Sure a bunch of foodies love lumpia or adobo – but I doubt at the current state of Filipino food in Texas, can we supplant a taco or sushi joint in anyone’s Top 20 list.  Notice I said Top 20.  I think it will take more folks like me.  Not to sound conceited but it’s true.   Someone who has a great love for Central Texas Style barbecue.  Just meat and fire!  Our Lechon will be a rage here – just the basics right?  Meat and Fire.  For my sake, I hope I am right.

As far as boosts go – we need authenticity and unapologetic sincerity.  I think I can present sinigang in such a way that even the timidest palates will want to try it.  Blanch the veggies separately and use meatier cuts.  Make the dishes fun.  Explain as much as you can.  Have themes.  I hate to admit it, but use plants or ringers in your crowds.  I have two new friends that I met from the very first Gamatan Event I presented.  They are awesome ambassadors of Filipino Cuisine.  They are knowledgeable of the cuisine, well-spoken and are true foodies.  The ringers help you explain the best ways to eat the dishes or which sauces to use.

MFB: About how many Filipinos are there in Texas? What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine there?

RM: There were 138,000 Pinoys in Texas during the last census.  Sadly I cannot tell you how Filipino cuisine is viewed here, because it does not even register a blip on the food radar screen.

MFB:  What do you consider as your greatest challenges?

RM: The highest challenge for me is the money worries.  I think this will be true until I open my brick and mortar shop.

MFB: If someone asks your opinion about the viability of opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in your area, what would you say?

RM: I think it can be done.  But to be viable you cannot just count on the Fil-Am community.  My customers will have to be 50% Fil-Ams and the other half others.I am not a big fan of fusion cuisine.  I do not think you have to dumb down the cuisine to gain fans.  You do have to admit that certain things will have to be prepared differently.  Perhaps even “deconstructing” dishes like sinigang.  You have to have themes and a consistent marketing message.

Connect with Trisha & Roland’s Pinoy Pop-Ups:

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by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

Bringing people together through food and stories.

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“Filipino Food: Not at its Finest, but at its Funnest” (An Interview with a Texan-Pinoy Restaurant Owner)

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