“What’s Missing is Middle Ground Filipino Food” (A Q&A with a Culinary R&D Chef in San Diego)


Chef Phillip Esteban (Photo credit: Kim Marcelo)

Phillip Esteban is Research and Development Chef of CH Projects, a group that’s set out not just to create restaurants and bars, but “incubators for meaningful interactions”. The company has 12 projects (which they don’t want to call restaurants and bars) in San Diego.

We tapped on Phillip’s food (including a kitchen stint at David Chang’s acclaimed Momofuku Ssäm Bar), and research & development experience to find out what the Filipino food scene is like in America’s Finest City. More on Filipino food and Phillip’s background in this Q&A.

MFB: Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage.

PE: My father is from Mangatarem, Pangasinan and my mother is from Asingan, Pangasinan in Luzon. My father joined the US Navy and helped immigrate our entire family to the US. 

MFB: What was it like for you to grow up in the US?

PE: I was born in San Diego, California. I’m a first-generation Filipino here in the United States. When my grandfather moved here, he experienced racism because of the language barrier. He did not want his grandchildren to experience that so I and all my cousins were raised as English speakers. As a consequence, we did not become fluent in Tagalog or Ilocano. However, we kept all our traditions and we were always surrounded by food. One of my earliest memories as a child was learning to cook and bake with my grandmother.

MFB: What was the first job you held in food? 

PE: My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Firefly Restaurant in the Dana Hotel, Mission Bay as a prep cook.


Photo credit: Find it in Fondren

MFB: Please tell us about your role as Research and Development Chef at CH Projects. 

PE: The R&D chef role within CH Projects is ever evolving. Beyond creativity and menu development with our chefs, I also focus on company culture, development of the young cooks, and leadership with our growing management teams. 

MFB: Please describe the Filipino and Filipino food scene in San Diego?  

Photo credit: Sandiego.org

PE: The Filipino food scene in San Diego is filled with “point point” joints. There is a young group of Filipino Chefs who are working diligently to bring our culture to the forefront of cuisine. To be frank, my only concern is that the Filipino culture is also rooted in finding deals and discounts. Why would the Filipino community pay $20 for a “Pork Belly Kare Kare” appetizer at an upscale restaurant versus paying $20 at a “point point joint” and feed your entire family? In contrast, either Filipino food is very simplistic in presentation or too fine dining. 

What is actually missing is middle ground for simply plated food, in a space that is aesthetically pleasing and designed for the general public.

The great thing about San Diego is there are many Filipino Chefs that are doing extremely well within the community and are working towards developing our cuisine in the US. It is exciting to see what will unfold in the next few years!

MFB: Describe your perfect Filipino meal.

PE: Nothing beats a home cooked meal. Kare-kare, a traditional Filipino dish of braised oxtail stew with peanut butter sauce is my favorite. But I have had amazing modern Filipino meals too. Qui Restaurant (by Chef Paul Qui, Filipino and Top Chef Winner) in Austin, Texas, (now Kuneho), had a well-executed, Filipino inspired, tasting menu.


Mais con hielo (corn kernels with shaved ice) at Qui Restaurant, Austin (Photo credit: A Taste of Coco)

Connect with Phillip Esteban:

Instagram: @phillipesteban

(Named one of the “Top Five Food-Related Instagrams To Follow Right Now”on San Diego Eater)

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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

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“What’s Missing is Middle Ground Filipino Food” (A Q&A with a Culinary R&D Chef in San Diego)

From Street-Side Food to Stateside Haute Cuisine (a Q&A with a Filipino Executive Chef in San Diego)

Tidal Executive Chef Danilo “DJ” Tangalin Jr.

Great success stories sometimes spring up from the least expected places. Danilo “DJ” Tangalin Jr.’s story is one of such. DJ, former Executive Chef of JRDN Restaurant at Tower23, Pacific Beach is now the Executive Chef of Tidal, a waterfront resort restaurant in Mission Bay, San Diego. But it hasn’t always been snazzy restaurants with haute cuisine, fine wines and sweeping ocean views for this chef. Before stagiairing with renowned chefs around the US, like Andrew Carmelini at Locanda Verde, Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, Daniel Patterson at Coi to name a few, his first stint in food was a far cry from these kitchens. In the late 90’s, DJ then a fledgling teen, helped out in his family’s roadside, no-frills carinderia in the Philippines. Carinderias are downscale eateries common everywhere in the country, also referred to as turo-turo (point-point joints). At DJ’s family eatery, taxi and bus drivers, students, passersby and mothers who weren’t bothered to cook pointed at the food they wanted from an assortment of cooked Filipino food in pots — for eat in or to go.


A carinderia/turo-turo in the Philippines

DJ has come a long way since then. He, with other prominent chefs of Filipino descent in San Diego, debunks the myth that Filipino cuisine is nothing more than downscale and unsophisticated food.


MFB: Tell us about your Filipino roots.

DJT: I was born and raised in Baguio City. In case you haven’t heard, Baguio is the summer capital of the Philippines because of its cooler climate. It’s often referred to as the city of pines because of the abundance of pines in the city.

MFB: When did you immigrate to the U.S.? 

DJT: My family immigrated to the state of Hawaii in 2001. My dad moved there before us —around 1997 —before he petitioned the rest of the family.

MFB: What was the move to the US like for you?

DJT: I’m very glad it was Hawaii where we ended up first because of the rich Filipino community on the island, so there wasn’t a huge culture shock. I had just graduated from high school in the Philippines, but opted to repeat a year in Hawaii to study for the SAT to go to college. I was 16 when I moved to the US from the Philippines.

MFB: Does your heritage have any impact (good and bad) to your career? 

DJT: It has a huge impact. Ilocanos are known to be great cooks. Our background and history comes from natives, whose cooking I consider as unblemished by other cultures. It is unique and indigenous.


LongShriLog by DJ: house-made longganisa, Baja shrimp, sweet potato purée, fried quail egg

MFB: What was the first job you held in food? What catapulted you to the Executive Chef position?

DJT: As far as just cooking non-professionally, it started pretty early. When my dad left for the US, my mom opened a carinderia (local eatery) a.k.a. turo-turo. I , together with my siblings, helped run it.

When we moved from Hawaii to New Jersey, I was actually a nursing major. I waited tables to help support myself during college. After a year, I switched my major to culinary.

About becoming an Executive Chef? I think it’s because I was always ready for the next step. I knew I had to develop my management skills as well as my financial understanding of the business. My mindset was locked into creating my own path and never just following somebody else’s footstep.

Swordfish and Monggo by DJ

MFB: Please describe the Filipino and Filipino food scene in San Diego?

DJT: National City and Miramar have a vibrant Filipino food scene that has been here for ages. In 2016 into 2017, we have been making strides in mainstreaming Filipino food with the help of various publications. It is one of the hottest trending food conversations in town. We just need to keep going and spreading the good word.

Bibingka (rice cakes) by DJ

MFB: In your opinion, how is Filipino food viewed by the general public in San Diego?

DJT: It definitely hasn’t enjoyed the same success as other Asian cuisines. Many know lumpia, pancit or adobo but it hasn’t grown beyond that. With the Philippines being an archipelago, we have so much more to offer and it is our job as Filipino chefs to share our culture and almost educate them about it.

Buko (coconut) pie by DJ

MFB: Please tell us about your efforts to promote Filipino cuisine in the US?

DJT: As the Executive Chef of Tidal restaurant here in San Diego, I’ve been integrating Filipino dishes on the menu. Some are presented traditionally and some are not. As a chef, I have different ways of showcasing this dishes using modern techniques and plating designs.


N.Y. Strip with laing (taro leaves) and carrots by DJ

MFB: Filipino Flavors was the first of its kind Filipino collaboration dinner in San Diego. What was it like for you?

DJT: It was very humbling and exciting. From the spark of the idea to our first menu meeting, the experience was truly one of a kind. The dinner was a huge success and there is already a huge demand for another one.

It was heartwarming to see a lot of Filipinos and encouraging to see a lot who weren’t. It was great to see everyone at the event and we are hoping to get the second one going.



MFB: Describe your perfect Filipino meal.

DJT: Oh man, I just want a nice bowl of arroz caldo (rice porridge). Growing up in Baguio, where it’s chilly and foggy at times, a nice bowl of arroz caldo is all you need.

Connect with DJ Tangalin:

Instagram: dj_tangalin (Named one of the “Top Five Food-Related Instagrams To Follow Right Now”on San Diego Eater)


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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.



From Street-Side Food to Stateside Haute Cuisine (a Q&A with a Filipino Executive Chef in San Diego)

11-time Culinary Champion and Only in His Twenties (An Interview with One of Norway’s Finest Chefs)

How old were you when you figured out what you really wanted to do for a living?

At a very tender age of two, Christian Andre Pettersen (CAP) already showed an inclination for his future vocation. Tuxedo-clad, the toddler Christian played waiter in his father’s fish restaurant in Bodø, a town in the North of Norway. At nine years old, he was Dad’s little kitchen assistant assigned to scouring pots and pans, washing dishes and peeling vegetables. Year after year, his duties expanded and by the time he turned eighteen, he was snatching awards at prestigious competitions from doyens of Norway’s gastronomy.  Now at twenty-seven, he’s unstoppable. He was honored as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for 2017. He has garnered an enviable 11 golds, 8 silvers and 1 bronze like a man with a mission – a mission to live a dream.


Christian’s father, mentor and inspiration lived long enough to see his son live his dreams. Before Christian’s father passed on in 2013, Christian made him a promise – to stand on the podium as the champion of the culinary equivalent of the Olympics – Bocuse d’Or.  It’s a promise he’s determined to keep. This year, Christian will be vying for the ticket to represent the country at Bocuse D’Or Europe.


We agreed to meet with Filipino-Norwegian Christian at Restaurant Mondo located by the harbor of Sandnes in Norway, where he’s the Head Chef. He was meticulously plating food at the restaurant’s open kitchen when we arrived. His focus on his work was unmistakable: slightly furrowed brows, head bent over the food on the counter, tattooed arms in motion; it was almost petrifying to announce our presence. As we spoke with him later on, his features softened.







MFB: Please tell us more about your Filipino heritage.

CAP: My mother, Charito Billones , hailed from Carmen, Cebu. My father met her in 1987 in Cebu when he set sail across the Pacific and along the coastal countries of Asia, including the Philippines.

 MFB: Have you been to the Philippines? What was the experience like for you?

 CAP:I’ve been seven times, but I was very young then. The last time was when I was 12 years old.  I don’t remember much, but what stood out to me was the halo-halo. I found its interesting mix of textures and cooling quality in contrast to the hot weather refreshing. I also remember trips to exotic islands. 

MFB: How strong is your exposure to Filipino food and culture?

 CAP:My mother often prepared Filipino food at home, like adobo, pancit and spring rolls. There was always rice on the table – even for breakfast. My father also prepared Norwegian food so I grew up with food from both worlds. That’s why I’m referred to as the East meets West Chef.

 There is a big Filipino community up there in the north. We attended many get-togethers. Sometimes traditional Filipino dancing using bamboo poles (Tinikling) was showcased.

 I also had a very Catholic upbringing and attended mass every Sunday. I served as an altar boy.

 MFB: What was it like for you, of mixed heritage, to grow-up in Norway? 

 CAP:I was born and raised in Norway. I never felt like an outsider. As a boy, one of the starkest differences I noticed was in our religious practices. We went to church every Sunday, while most Norwegians didn’t. It was tempting to sleep in and relax on Sundays, but not for us, we were in church at 11am. No excuses.

 MFB:  Please tell us about your father, who inspired you to be a chef.

 CAP: My father, who was a chef and restaurant owner, was my inspiration and mentor. Actually, he urged me not to become a chef. As a chef himself, he knew that it is a very demanding occupation.  The job requires a lot of hard work and can take over your life. My father and I had a discussion about this. After proving my skills and passion, we settled that if I was going to pursue my career as a chef, I should be the best of the best.

My father inspired me to do great things. He taught me that life has no limitations except the ones you create for yourself. That’s something I always keep in my mind. I’m living my dream right now, thanks to those words.

I’ve competed 20 times and won a medal each time, making me one of the chefs in Norway with the most participation in professional culinary competitions. My father lived to see me reap awards. In the end, I became his inspiration.


MFB: Which one among the 20 competitions you participated in stands head and shoulders above all the rest?

 Nordic Championship June 2015 Denmark

Nordic Championship June 2015 Denmark

The Norwegian Culinary Championship I won in 2011 is the most memorable. I was the youngest chef in Norway to win it. I was only 21 at the time and competed with the country’s seasoned chefs. It helped me become who I am today.

 MFB:  Bochus D’or is said to be the most prestigious gastronomic competition in the world. How close are you to getting the most coveted golden trophy?

CAP: Bocuse d’Or World Finals will be held in January 2017. I am going with the Norwegian team represented by Christopher W. Davidsen. I will also be vying to join Bocuse d’Or Norway on Sept. 12, 2017 at the Mathallen in Oslo. The winners at this event will represent Norway in the European Selection in 2018. Winners at the European will compete in the Bocuse d’Or  World Grand Finale in Lyon in 2019.



MFB:  Can you give us an example of a dish you created where you incorporated Filipino flavors and cooking techniques into the food?

 CAP:I made pancit, but instead of using noodles, I used thinly sliced cabbage. I infused it with flavors and served it with crispy pata (pork leg). I gave crispy pata a twist by using pig’s ears, which I popped to achieve a very crispy texture. I crushed it and coated the meat with it. I’ve served this to top chefs in Norway and they really enjoyed it.

MFB: Mondo opened in June 2016, while Stavanger is still suffering from an oil crisis. What prompted the opening of Mondo? What is the concept and how is it unique? Any plans of introducing Filipino-inspired dishes at Mondo?



 CAPThe price of oil is low now so the only way for it to go is up. Mondo was born during an economic downturn and positioned to be stronger in an upturn. So far, we’re doing very well. The restaurant is full every night.

 In Mondo, which means world, we use local ingredients and take inspiration from cooking techniques and spices from around the world. We have a changing 5-course and 9-course menu and occasionally include my takes on my Filipino favorites: halo-halo, crispy pata and adobo.

 MFB: What is your advice to aspiring Filipino chefs in Norway.

CAP: Winners never quit and quitters never win.

*Christian Andre Pettersen is one of the contributing authors of our upcoming book, My Food Beginnings – a collection of Filipino food memoirs and recipes.

Connect with Christian Andre Pettersen:

Website: http://www.capnorway.com/


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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.




11-time Culinary Champion and Only in His Twenties (An Interview with One of Norway’s Finest Chefs)

Most Influential Filipina Joins Our Filipino Food Anthology Project (a Q&A with the author of “Ampalaya Epiphany”)

Happy New Year!

If I should sum up 2016 in just one word, that word would be “OVERWHELMING” — in the most extreme, positive kind of way. 2016 was the year we launched My Food Beginnings to help promote appreciation of Filipino food and understanding of Filipino people. And the support we’ve received from people around the world has been nothing short of overwhelming. (THANK YOU!)

One of the numerous responses that overwhelmed me was from a third-generation Filipino-American professor, a Plaridel Award-winning writer and a Filipino food advocate who comes from a big family of good cooks. She has been named one of the “100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the World” by the Filipina Women’s Network. She is none other than Lisa Suguitan Melnick.

Lisa Suguitan Melnick

In “Ampalaya Epiphany”, the story Lisa contributes to our forthcoming Filipino food anthology, Lisa is reminded of the hands of her Uncle Epifanio (Epiphany) as she looks down on her hands chopping ampalaya (bitter melon) usugiri (thin cut) style. She describes how her family “fortifies her delicate third generation ties to her Philippine heritage” and reflects on how she identifies oneness with the bitter, prickly- exteriored vegetable.


Ampalaya (Photo credit: Apron and Sneakers)

I guarantee. You’ll enjoy reading our Q&A with Lisa. Her answers read like a delicious narrative and will make you long for food, family, and Filipino-ness. Find out, too ,why she says, “Hence, it’s NOT Filipino food which needs to evolve…”

MFB: Please tell us more about your heritage. Where were your grandparents from and when did they immigrate to the U.S.?

LSM: My maternal grandfather, Celestino T. Alfafara, was from Carcar, Cebu and came to the U.S. in 1929, and maternal grandmother, Juanita Cayton Alfafara, half Filipina and half Chilena, was born and raised in San Francisco, California.  My paternal grandparents, Silvestre and Victorina del Rosario Suguitan immigrated from Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Luzon, in 1927.

MFB:What was it like for you to grow up in the U.S.?

LSM: My paternal grandparents provided the solid ground to my Filipino roots by having the whole family to dinner at their house in San Francisco’s Richmond district every Thursday and Sunday in addition to Christmas and New Year’s Day.  By “whole family” I mean my nuclear family of four, the families of my father’s two sisters, Lucrecia (family of seven), and Lourdes (family of four), my two great uncles, and grandparents.  The Uncles cooked dinner — that’s right — for nineteen of us, twice a week!  This tradition went on until I was about eight, when the families decided to reduce the gathering to once-a-week—Sundays, and holidays.  My mother, who was a very good cook, passed on when I was nine. Among the Filipino dishes of hers, I remember comfort foods such as, arroz caldo, arroz valenciana, oxtail soup,and sotanghon.


Arroz Caldo (Photo credit: Apron and Sneakers)

My father remarried and we moved to Los Angeles.  Seven years later, upon graduating early from high school, I returned to San Francisco, reuniting with the rest of the family.  It was during my university years that I learned how to cook Filipino dishes from my great uncles, Epifanio and Serviliano, who taught me Ilokano dishes.

MFB: When was the first time you visited the Philippines?  What were your impressions?

LSM: My first trip to the Philippines was in 2012. While there, I celebrated my 56th birthday in Davao with the “Al Robles Express” group—Vanessa V, Kathy B, Nena C–led by author/educator Oscar Peñaranda.  As I mentioned earlier, my biological mother, Anita Alfafara Suguitan, passed on at the young age of thirty-three. She had never gone to the ancestral homeland.  Unexpectedly, my travel to the Philippines, and meeting our relatives in Carcar, Cebu, allowed a reconnection to her that had been veiled and elusive to me for over four decades.

My impressions of the Philippines? Well…the Philippines is profoundly beautiful, sensuously intense—breathtaking in its level of poverty as well as in its vivid beauty.  The myriad and deeply felt experiences inspired the stories in my book, #30 Collantes Street.


My “impressions” I think, resembled that of a first love encounter. That crowing, doodle-ing chickens and baying barking dogs conversed all day. That the distinctive aroma of fresh durian snuck up my nose a half block away and from then on, I experienced its creamy taste in a whole new way. That tropical fish suckled my fingers though turquoise colored water. These experiences, which could never be captured in photo image, fulfill me. All the while, I’m humbly aware that I journeyed as a member from the Filipino- American tribe; thus, having only been to the motherland twice, I am not in a position to comment about politics, economics, or some of the “hard” images I also observed on the streets.

MFB: You’ve been named one of the 100 most influential Filipina women in the world by the Filipina Women’s Network.  Please tell us about this and the work you did/do in your respective field that earned you this award.

LSM: I was nominated by longtime community activist, historian, and author Evangeline Canonizado Buell, who knows me as an educator and author.  Though I am a college/university professor in the Language Arts division, the recognition was given for my work as a qi gong/yoga practitioner/instructor and the course I designed for my campus community. My work in this area is also influenced by Philippine indigenous healers and culture bearers with whom I have connected through the Center for Babaylan Studies founded by Dr. Elenita Mendoza Strobel.  In addition, I served on the American Federation of Teachers Union 1492, and as a faculty advisor for the Filipino Students Association.  I’m  also an active board member of Philippine American Writers & Artists (PAWA) and a member of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS).  One common denominator in these areas is that I work with people to identify personal goals and then create space for them to work on achieving those goals.  For the work in these various organizations, I was recognized in the category of Behind the Scenes Leader.

MFB: Based on your observations, how are Filipinos and Filipino food viewed in America?


LSM:On the one hand, I enjoyed celebrating Filipino food through events such as Savor Filipino 2014 which presented our cuisine in new and creative ways, and provided an arena in which to think outside the box of our own mothers’ home cooking in order to elevate Filipino cuisine into the mainstream. I saw pork adobo made with pork belly and served on a crisped rice cake.  By assisting chefs Tim Luym (Buffalo Theory, Attic) and Miguel Trinidad (Maharlika, Jeepney), I received hands-on experience on fresh, amazing ways of preparing traditional favorites: sisig tacos, and kinilaw offered with three choices of top grade fish.

This event allowed participants to view Filipino food and consider the notion that the cool platings may not ever be “better” than our childhood experiences, but indeed, it was an exciting new way to present it to the general public.  I felt so proud that 30,000 people partook in Filipino food in San Francisco that day.  I also admire the events given by young chefs such as, Yana Gilbuena’s Salo Project, and Hood Yums’ kamayan.

But here’s the thing, aside from events and chefs such as the ones I’ve named (and there are many more) in which we celebrate ourselves,   I’m not all about sharing Filipino food with a culture which I observe still views my heritage—our food included– through a whitesplaining, privileged lens.  Jeez, dinuguan (“dinarduran” in Ilokano or pork blood stew) and balut (boiled fertilized egg) are offered as “fear factor” food challenges!    My experience is that most Americans, if they have any exposure to Filipino food at all, still haven’t ventured much beyond lumpia, pansit, and adobo.

Hence, it’s NOT Filipino food which needs to evolve…

MFB: Describe your perfect Filipino meal.

LSM: It hails back to dinners with my grandparents and Uncle Anong at their home in the Richmond district. Uncle Anong would take New York striploin steaks and cut them lengthwise, creating a thinner piece of meat—a perfect portion.  A piece of that steak, simply fried in an iron skillet with salt and pepper, pinakbet (vegetable stew), a bowl of boiled mackerel with ginger, garlic, and vinegar and hot rice. That is my favorite meal.  It’s very simple, I know, but my heart wraps around the whole memory of its aromas, the place at the table, the time of my life, with them.

*Lisa Suguitan Melnick and White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford  are two of the many  contributing authors of the forthcoming, My Food Beginnings, a collection of Filipino food memoirs and recipes.

Connect with Lisa Suguitan Melnick:

Website: www.lisasuguitanmelnick.com

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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.




Most Influential Filipina Joins Our Filipino Food Anthology Project (a Q&A with the author of “Ampalaya Epiphany”)

The Fil-Am Chef Who Builds a Restaurant Empire (A Q&A with The Food Buddha)

You might have seen him on TV. If you missed him on “Good Morning America”,  you probably caught him on “Entertainment Tonight”. Or perhaps you’ve seen his own show “Food Buddha” premier on TLC?

Or maybe you remember seeing him guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, NBC’s “Today Show,” Food Network’s “The Best Of,” Fox’s “Live Like a Star,” Style Network’s “It’s my Party”… (Huff,huff) and the list goes on and on.

If you don’t happen to watch TV, he’s also been featured in newspapers, magazines, cookbooks, on the web and has also been a repeat guest chef at the prestigious James Beard House. Or maybe you might have eaten in one of the numerous restaurants -some of which are Yi Cuisine in LA, Sunda in Chicago, Sesame in HongKong and Me Geisha Sushi in Italy- that make up his restaurant empire?

The point is, unless you were just born yesterday, you must have heard of Filipino-American Chef Rodelio Aglibot aka The Food Buddha.


(Photo credit : Kababayan Today)

I will not even attempt to cover Rodelio’s wide-ranging, twenty-year career in food and restaurants around the globe. That in itself would make a book. Instead, let’s seek some Filipino food enlightenment from The Food Buddha in the Q&A below:

 MFB: Please tell me more about your Filipino heritage. Where in the Philippines are your parents from and when did they immigrate to the U.S.?

RA: I was born in Subic Bay. My father is from Zambales. My mother, who attended high school in Hawaii, is from Nueve Ecija. My father was in the US Navy and immigrated to the US via the navy.


Rodelio (left) with his parents and siblings in Hawaii (Photo credit : Kababayan Today)

MFB: How did your moniker, The Food Buddha, come about?

RA:Two food writers in LA back in 2004 interviewed me and appreciated my take on food and being a chef. I spoke in ways of wisdom according to them and they gave me the name Food Buddha.

MFB: Please describe the Filipino food scene in Hawaii and LA. What is the general perception about Filipino cuisine & Filipino people?

RA: In Hawaii, the Filipino food scene has always existed. The co-mingling of Asian food and cultures is predominant in Hawaii and as a young child you are exposed to Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese and American cuisine. Today’s young avant-garde chefs are creatively pushing the boundaries of Filipino cuisine.

LA is similar to Hawaii, but more proactive because of the population and more exposure. It’s also where I was successful years ago in including Filipino food to my menus.


Rodelio’s Adobo Braised Pork Belly (Photo by Kenny Kim)

Some perceptions are that Filipino food is bold, yet salty, sour and sweet. It’s heavy food – something they could not eat everyday. They often love lumpia, pancit and adobo. But more importantly, non-Filipinos have the utmost respect for Filipinos.

MFB: I came across an article in a magazine in Plano,Texas categorizing Filipino cuisine as Polynesian. Please comment.

RA: There is so much misinformed and ignorant food writing out there. We can either put our energies towards addressing “hurt feelings” and “injustice” or be part of a solution to educate and rise above it. Are we Pacific Islanders or Asians? Pacific Islanders could technically be classified as Polynesian. I find when something is written that benefits all cultures, people will find some connection to be associated and the opposite true as well.

Are we Filipinos in such dire need to be accepted?  Respected? Or acknowledged? Do we even accept ourselves in our own country? Do we promote the well being of all?

Anthony Bourdain’s first feature on the Philippines showed our culture eating delicacies that other countries or cultures would look at as “gross” or “uneatable”. We downplayed that part of the story, yet essentially put him on a pedestal after his latest feature where he praised the Filipino culture.

We take the good with the bad, we persevere, we overcome.

MFB: You have developed restaurant concepts and menus all over the world. Where do you foresee an exclusively Filipino-themed restaurant succeeding in hitting the mainstream outside of the Philippines?

Another restaurant opened by Rodelio: Earth+Ocean (E+O) in Mount Prospect, Illinois  (Photo by INTRESCO)

Once again, I love Filipino food because it tells me a story. It connects me with my history.  It’s the food of the people. It’s peasant food. It’s real.

What is our objective for this to happen? Acceptance? Recognition? If it does or does not happen are we any less? Is our food then not good?

Twenty years ago, as a Sous Chef of a Southeast Asian Restaurant in San Francisco, I put Grilled Adobo Porkchop with Garlic Fried Rice on the menu. 16 years ago, Adobo Pork Belly, Avocado Mousse and Lumpia. 12 years ago, Taro Bread Pudding, Cassava Cake, Kare Kare, Crispy Pata, Bistek and Pancit on my menu at Yi Cuisine in LA, which was awarded Best New Asian Restaurant in LA by Food and Wine Magazine.

Cendrillon Restaurant was open in NYC as other Filipino Chefs created mainstream dishes. You see, this movement is 20 years old, “pre-social media”.

That question hasn’t been answered in over 10 years. To incorporate true and authentic Filipino food mainstream but bastardize the food in order to be mainstream is not the respect and honor our food deserves. Some Pinoys won’t support this because the food becomes identifiable and lacking in authenticity. Would they pay $25 for crispy pata or $20 for pancit? We are also critical and often feel our own parents’ cooking is the best.

Yet to charge more and make money to survive, we as chefs need to evolve with better quality and high end ingredients to cook with.

MFB: If you could only eat one Filipino dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Kare Kare, Bulalo and Dinuguan are the top three.


Dinuguan- a Filipino stew of pork blood, meat and offal

*Rodelio Aglibot is one of the contributing authors of our upcoming book, My Food Beginnings – a collection of Filipino food memoirs.

Connect with Rodelio Aglibot:

Website: http://www.rodelioaglibot.com/

Twitter: @thefoodbuddha


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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.



The Fil-Am Chef Who Builds a Restaurant Empire (A Q&A with The Food Buddha)

Filipino Food, Anthony Bourdain and a Poet Named Janice (a Q&A)

The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

The poem, “For Filipina/x Americans Who See Themselves Thru Anthony Bourdain”, was published on The Offing, an online literary magazine, which publishes work that challenges and provokes. And that’s exactly what the poem written by Janice Lobo Sapigao does – it challenges and provokes.

Intrigued? We asked Janice what prompted her to write it and included the link to her poem below.

 But wait. Don’t scroll down just yet. Not before you meet Janice Sapigao. Janice is a Filipina writer, poet, and educator born and raised in San José, California. She is also one of the much-revered story and recipe contributors to our forthcoming Filipino Food anthology, My Food Beginnings.

Janice Sapigao

Her first book of poetry, Microchips for Millions, about immigrant women in the Silicon Valley who make microchips, is launching this month.

Here’s a sneak peek:


An excerpt from Microchips for Millions:



MFB: What was it like for you to grow up in the U.S.?

JS: This is a question that I still ask myself. As a Filipina American – and this is well-documented in my poetry and writings, just as it is in my Filipina American scholarship – I come up against questions about accessing language, culture, and information and I sit (not very well) with half-answers wondering about being, saying, or doing enough that depicts my past or changing identities.

I am still writing a novel entitled Where Did You Get All Those English From?, which seeks to answer so many questions regarding how I grew up within my household, and how I grew up in the US. I find traces of how I grew up in the following books and texts that, for me, describe very well the in-betweenness I felt:

  • The Babysitters Club series and The Babysitters Club Little Sister series by Ann M. Martin
  • Her Wild American Self by M. Evelina Galang
  • Pinay Power edited by Melinda DeJesus
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
  • Homebound by Yen Le Espiritu
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Miss Universe by Ruby Veridiano-Ching


MFB: What prompted you to write the poem, For Filipina/x Americans Who See Themselves Thru Anthony Bourdain? What did you want readers to take away from it?

JS:My poem, “For Filipina/x Americans Who See Themselves Thru Anthony Bourdain,” was published in an online literary journal I love, The Offing. The Offing seeks out work by writers who are often marginalized in literary spaces – which is important because many Filipina/x writers write out of these spaces. I love that my poem was published during 2016 Filipina/x American History Month.

I wrote it because I saw that, in Spring 2016, a lot of folks were re-posting and re-tweeting links about chef Anthony Bourdain’s trip to the Philippines in late 2015. I’m always weary of travelogues, travel shows, and people (celebrities and everyday people – even my own friends or acquaintances) who make tourism and traveling a sport. I’m weary and critical about these things because the consumption of food and culture is inherently linked to (often unchecked) privilege. I think that, if anything, checking one’s privilege allows folks to think about who they are, where they are, and most importantly, who they are not.

Why do Filipina/xs extend care or pride or see themselves when a white male chef is whitesplaining ourselves and culture back to us?

Photo Credit: Anthony Bourdain-Parts Unknown

I wrote the poem because, as social media friends were seeing the Philippines through Bourdain’s eyes – or Bourdain’s camera – I took (and still take) issue with the newfound or renewed sense of pride in being / being from the Philippines. Bourdain himself wrote, “It’s not even about Filipinos — as my experience, however intimate, is limited in the extreme.” I appreciate and respect Bourdain for writing that in the article that accompanies the full episode, because, it is so true! It is limited, Bourdain. Which means, yes, ours as viewers is limited, too. I wonder, why do Filipina/xs extend care or pride or see themselves when a white male chef is whitesplaining ourselves and culture back to us?

I want readers to think about these particular lines from the poem:

“Why drum the remote to find home.

 Why not drive the knife into the accent

 they baked for you.

 Why not julienne the blessing with your bare hands.”


MFB: Based on your observations/experiences, how are Filipinos and Filipino food viewed in America?

JS: I wonder if this is where I should talk about halo-halo with soft tofu, popcorn, and gummy bears, and energy drinks, or ube as the newest flavor after green tea and coconut.

I wonder if this is where I offer an opinion on white people doing Filipino food pop-ups or food trucks.

I wonder if this is where I reflect on white folks eating tilapia on banana leaves with a spoon and fork.

I think about point-point (turo-turo) restaurants, or point-point restaurants at markets, and how I love them so, but cannot, and wish I could, order in Tagalog or Ilokano.

I think about my Auntie Luz, in Maui, who knows so many people who work at the Maui Flea Market. I think about how we both talked with the Ilokano workers at the Maui lavender farm, as they crouched down pulling weeds while we sat on a bench.

I think about how my step-dad had dreams of opening up his own restaurant once he arrived in America. And the shame I felt when I was little, and insisted that our family eat at McDonald’s or In-N-Out instead of at a Filipino restaurant that closed six months after it opened in Milpitas (6+1, I still remember you!). We got our food in the drive-thru lane that day, and my step-dad took his Big Mac only to put it in our refrigerator for later eating (or throwing away).

I think about how, every week for two years, I bought all of my groceries at Seafood City (a supermarket chain specializing in Filipino & other Asian goods)at Eagle Rock Plaza.

All of these moments thread together the present and simultaneously fleeting. These are my memories that are telling about my exact thoughts on how Filipinos and Filipino food is viewed in America.

MFB: If you could only have one Filipino dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

JS:Filipino breakfast! Filipino breakfast is so versatile! It’ll always include rice, some (sweet meat) protein, and fried, runny eggs. I like it with diced tomato and onion.


LongSiLog (Longanisa, Sinangag, Itlog) Photo credit: bhearsum

I could eat a late night meal or breakfast from any of the following places: Coffee Adventure in Milpitas, CA, or Tselogs in Daly City, CA; or Lucky Chances in Colma, CA; or Toppings Tree in Santa Clara, CA; or LA Rose Café in Los Angeles.

*Janice Sapigao is one of the contributing authors of our upcoming book, My Food Beginnings – a collection of Filipino food memoirs. 

Connect with Janice Sapigao:

 Website: www.janicewrites.com


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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.http://www.twitter.com/mfb_anthology



Filipino Food, Anthony Bourdain and a Poet Named Janice (a Q&A)


Is culinary snobbery for real in Italy? Mamma mia! If you ask me, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. I’ve experienced it firsthand. My mother-in-law is Italian! Although I’ve never lived in Italy, we’ve visited at least once every year for the past 18 years.

One time, we were at my in-laws on my son’s birthday, so I volunteered to make the birthday cake – strawberry shortcake, his favorite. After the birthday song was sung and birthday candles blown, I cut into the three alternating layers of sponge and strawberry with cream cake and served everyone, including my dear suocera (mother-in-law), a slice.

I immediately sensed her hesitation. She examined the cake with skepticism before she mustered the courage to dig in. She forked a tiny morsel into her mouth.

Nose turned up, she pushed her plate of cake away. Her verdict? “Nauseante”, meaning nauseating. If I didn’t see my son and husband, who are also Italians by the way, but the kinds who don’t live in Italy, devour their pieces of cake with gusto, I probably would have burst into tears.

Don’t get me wrong. My mother-in-law is not a snob. She is a wonderful, humble lady who slaves over in the kitchen and waits on her family on hand and foot. But when it comes to food, she is a tough one to please. And while she doesn’t represent the entire Italian public, I’m sure she’s not the only one in Italy, who regards anything foreign-made, meaning any food prepared by someone who lives from 30 miles away and further, with utmost suspicion.

My point? For a Filipina to break into food in Italy is probably as difficult as scaling the legendary summit of Monte Bianco. That is why I was so thrilled when I found out about Rome-based Rowena Dumlao-Giardina, an accomplished Filipina food and travel writer, recipe developer and food photographer, who’s making her mark in Italy.


Rowena Dumlao-Giardina

Rowena is the lady behind Apron and Sneakers, a blog about cooking and travelling in and beyond Italy. How is her blog different from others in Italy? Hers has two doors open to two worlds of cuisines: Asian or Filipino inspired cuisine and Italian cuisine.

On Apron and Sneakers, Rowena shares her experiences visiting wineries, restaurants and hotels. She attributes the success of her blog to the wide scope of categories she tackles, which sparks the interest of her audience. Likewise, her photography is a strong magnet to her work.

My Food Beginnings was not the first to notice Rowena’s flourishing career. She’s been interviewed and featured in both Italian and international sites and magazines, such as Juan in EU.

Her work takes her far and beyond the confines of her own home. In August 2015, she, together with other media people, were invited to spend a day at ALMA Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, the world’s leading international training center for Italian Cuisine, directed by Italian Master Chef Gualtiero Marchesi. During this visit, she stayed in the kitchens and classrooms with the other students and was also one of the judges of the school’s culinary competition that awarded the winning student a scholarship.

ALMA Culinary School

Rowena(left) at ALMA Culinary School

Outside of Italy, she participated in press tours and events in Georgia, Bulgaria,Turkey, Spain and the Netherlands. In the Hague, she was invited to a dinner event to promote Philippine cuisine with Purple Yam owners Chef Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa at the residence of Ambassador Jaime Victor Badillo Ledda of the Philippine Embassy in the Netherlands.

Hague with Ambassador Victor Ledda

Rowena with Ambassador Ledda

When Rowena is not traveling, she works at home full-time, creating recipes, cooking them and photographing what she has cooked.

Rowena’s Story

The daughter of Nimfa B. Dumlao, originally from Marinduque and the late Capt. Ramon S. Dumlao, originally from Tarlac, Rowena grew up in the Southern part of Metro Manila.

Capt. Dumlao, Rowena’s father, was a pilot for the UN. He died while on duty in Angola. After her father’s tragic passing in 1999, Rowena travelled alone to Europe for a much needed soul searching. With nothing more than her worldly needs in a backpack and a eurail pass, she journeyed across Europe for a month and a half, starting from Madrid.  It was at the Madrid train station outbound to Lisbon where Rowena met her future husband, who was also then a traveler.

“It was the beginning of a wonderful journey all over Europe. We would meet in some cities and amazingly, make a lifelong commitment. I moved to Italy in the same year,” she reminisces.

How She Got Started in Food and with Apron and Sneakers

Like many Filipinos in the Philippines, Rowena grew up without minding the kitchen and what went on in that part of the house.

“There was always someone who took care of the food and it always arrived on the table. I did have an interest in cooking but when I tried to follow some western recipes, I just had to give up,” said Rowena. “Most ingredients were difficult to find in the Philippines at that time.”

In Italy, without the comfort of help she was used to at home, Rowena realized how inadequate her cooking skills were. Fortunately, her mother-in-law, whom she described as “having the Sicilian genes of an incredible cook”, took her under her wing in the kitchen until her first-born child arrived.

As a mother, it was time for Rowena to hold the reigns in the kitchen. The years of training with her mother-in-law paid off. She prepared her son’s food from scratch. Nothing artificial. Nothing processed. It was, therefore, her maternal love that got her started in food.

Apron and Sneakers was a product of her cooking for her kids. At some point, her son became a very picky eater and with the birth of their second child, she had to be creative to make her kids interested in eating. She started photographing the food she prepared and posted them on Facebook. After continuous prodding by her friends to start a blog, she finally took the plunge in 2011.

On Filipino Food

Rowena describes Filipino food as a particularly unique cuisine with influences from Spanish, Chinese and Malay cuisines. At least, that’s how she recalls it was some twenty years ago when American influence had not overtaken the real essence of Filipino gastronomy. When people asked her about our cuisine, she’d say it is a rich cuisine of seafood, vegetables and meat (mostly pork), that are usually grilled on fire or cooked with coconut milk accompanied with rice, the Philippine staple, and different kinds of dipping sauces.

Filipino food in Rome

“Filipino food is still a mystery among Italians,” confirms Rowena.

She knows just a couple of establishments serving Filipino food and they cater mostly, if not exclusively, to the Filipino palate. Popularity-wise, it cannot be compared to Chinese and Japanese, which dominates the Asian cuisine market in Italy.

“I think there is a big need to open more Filipino restaurants with an Italian- friendlier approach to the cuisine, something that can bridge the gap between Filipinos and non-Filipinos,” says Rowena.

Advice for aspiring bloggers

 There are three things in Rowena’s must list for blogging: passion, determination and patience.

“Love for what you’re doing transmits to your writing, which becomes a natural flow of words coming straight from your heart. If you are determined about what you started, you won’t easily give up. And of course, patience – don’t think that as soon as you start blogging, opportunities will start clamoring on your door. It takes time and patience. Blogging works for others and it doesn’t for some,” advises Rowena.

Her Filipino-based Recipes

  • Rowena bring elements of Filipino cuisine into many of the recipes she develops. Examples are:

Avocado, Green Tea and Almond Ice Candies

Avocado%2c Green Tea & Almond Ice Candies

Creme Caramel With Cinnamon and Brandy Sauce

Creme Caramel With Cinnamon and Brandy Sauce

Her Recipe and Story Behind the Recipe (An excerpt from Apron and Sneakers )


Ensaladang Lato with Grilled Shrimp Skewers

by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina

After a seafood lunch of orata alla livornese in Eataly, I made my way to the seafood section to buy some shrimp to cook for dinner.  As I was checking the array of oysters from Brittany, France, my eyes landed on a big container of alghe (seaweed) beside them.  I went closer and was transfixed for a full minute.  My mind raced back to my childhood, remembering fond memories of Sunday lunches in my grandparents’ house.

Sundays were special and when we had seafood, my grandmother made sure that we had seaweed grapes or lato salad as a side dish.  I shared the love of this salad with my grandfather.  Almost everyone ate it but not everyone was as crazy about it as the two of us.  Maybe because seaweed grapes looked like bunches of minute grapes that I had grown attracted to or perhaps it’s because it was served as a salad mixed with onions & tomatoes and dressed with vinegar. Whatever the reason is, it remained high on my list.  This salad was soon forgotten after my grandfather died when I was 12 and the Sunday lunches became lesser and lesser until my father’s family completely dwindled.  The Sunday get-togethers abruptly stopped along with this salad.  I never saw the seaweed grape salad on our table again.

Sea Asparagus Salad with Grilled Shrimp Skewers (1)

Photo by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina

Sea Asparagus Salad with Grilled Shrimp Skewers Recipe


Serves 2

  • 200 g. sea asparagus
  • 1/2 Tropea onion (any red onion is fine), rings
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 lemon rind
  • black sesame seeds
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Barolo wine vinegar (or use any vinegar you have)
  • salt
  • 8 – 10 shrimp, deveined and shelled
  • fresh basil leaves


  1. Clean the sea asparagus with water. Take away the parts that are brownish.  Set aside.
  2. Boil some water in a big saucepan.   Prepare a big bowl that can accommodate the sea asparagus with ice and water.   When the water boils, add some salt and blanch the sea asparagus for 3 minutes.  Take them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the bowl of ice and water.  Make sure that they are submerged in the water.  This way, you trap the color and freshness of the sea asparagus.  Once cold, drain well.
  3. Transfer the sea asparagus to a serving bowl.  Add the tomatoes & onions.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds & lemon rind.   Dress with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar & salt.
  4. Grill the shrimp on a griddle.  Put 4 – 5 in a skewer, alternating with the halved tomatoes & basil.
  5. Serve the skewers on top of the salad.

Apron and Sneakers on social media:

Instagram: @apron_sneakers

Facebook: Apron and Sneakers

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

Help fire up an appetite for Filipino cuisine around the world.

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter.

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