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

phillip-esteban

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.

phillip

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?  

titas-kitchenette
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

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

Bringing people together through food and stories

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