American Chef Hosts Filipino Food Events in Richmond, Virginia (A Q&A with Chef Ian Merriman)

Filipino food is dubbed as one of the “it” cuisines you should be eating now. But where do you go to eat “it”? In many places, including Richmond, Virginia, if you don’t want or know how to cook the food yourself, you might need to stray off the beaten path to find a spot that serves Filipino dishes. Or, you might need to constantly keep your finger on the pulse of the city to catch an upcoming Filipino food event or pop-up . . . Or, you’d better make Filipino friends in the hope of getting invited to their homes to savor home-cooked Filipino fare😊. Having said that (joking aside), Chef Ian Merriman’s first exposure to the cuisine was in the homes of his Filipino friends. The food clearly made a big impact on Ian. Now the executive chef at Millie’s Diner, Ian claims that without his past personal connections with Filipinos—The Jackdaw, his monthly pop-ups, wouldn’t have been born.

Here’s how it all began . . .

MFB: Please tell us more about yourself as a chef, your origins and how you got started in food.

IM: I’ve been cooking professionally for sixteen years and I don’t think I found my rhythm until now. I was born in New York, but my family spans from the South to the Midwest US in origin. My mom was in the military, so home was really nowhere.  Cooking started as a way for me to pay my bills, have no real responsibilities, and be able to play music. As I got older, playing music became a little less important than cooking. My professional cooking background has practically always revolved around some sort of Asian cooking.

I had a lot of Asian friends when I was a kid. I had a decent number of Filipino friends growing up and traveling. That was my first exposure to Filipino food. I was a picky eater, but there was something about Filipino food that made me forget about that.

I don’t want to be “that guy” that talks about all his Asian friends he has or used to have, but if it weren’t for them and their families: there would be no Jackdaw. Period. I owe a lot to those home cooked meals, snacks at school, co-workers bringing lumpia…and just checking out the food culture of their relatives and ancestors. I owe Filipino food culture so much. It’s contribution to my professional life has been invaluable.  


MFB: Please tell us about The Jackdaw and your Filipino food pop-ups (Kamayan, Pulutan, etc.).

IM: The Jackdaw is more than just food to me. It’s an unspoken social experiment. I’ve never publicly spoken about it until now, but I want to smash this stigma that people are afraid to pay or charge “full price” for ethnic food in general.

Initially, I inspired myself to do these dinners. I was just completely frustrated cooking food I felt nothing about. I didn’t want to just do someone else’s menu.  I wanted something of my own.  As I strayed away from cooking a predominately Chinese-inspired menu, I started to take notice of all the Filipino food blogs and so many chefs who were stoked on cooking Filipino food. That got me excited about doing the dinners. The Jackdaw has always been super casual, food and community focused…while trying to showcase the best ingredients I can get.

I do these dinners at least once a month. I generally relax in the winter because people seem to be afraid to come out in the snow. The turnouts are always consistently good as long as it’s warm outside, haha. Customer demographics are typically, predominately white people.  Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a growing Filipino clientele…and repeat customers at that. I appreciate all the diners equally, but I’m ecstatic to see an expanding amount of interest within the Filipino community. It honestly means more to me than selling out food at every event. Just knowing that I’m making someone’s day and being told I remind them of home is worth way more than money.

pulutanPulutan menu, lumpia, Chicken Inasal, Sisig

MFB: Which were the most-liked dishes? Least-liked?

IM: Anything I do with seafood tends to be the biggest crowd favorite. I have a lot of experience working with great seafood down in Florida. I took everything I learned and applied it to what The Jackdaw is doing. I made an Arctic Char Kinilaw at the Pulutan event with a papaya relish, coconut milk, cane vinegar, and calamansi. That was the big hit from what I gather. My friend Keisler said it was that dish and those flavors that reminded him the most of home.

ArcticCharKinilaw    Arctic Char Kinilaw with papaya relish,, coconut milk, cane vinegar, and calamansi

I don’t think I got any negative feedback. My diners always seem to be supportive and good sports. In return, I promise not to serve them bullshit. Haha. I was told that my sisig needed more crunch to it, which I can totally agree with. I appreciate honest feedback.

 What’s the skinny on Filipino food in Richmond?

Filipino food in Richmond…certainly lacking in presence. It’s a damn shame because there is a pretty large community here. You always here of little events through the grapevine, but no restaurants. Vanessa Lorenzo turned me onto a sports bar that actually serves authentic Filipino food. It’s way off the beaten path, but it’s there. I’ve seen a couple of other dinners pop-up here and there, but I don’t feel like they captured the essence of Filipino food or tried to let the scene know there’s more to Filipino food than Adobo and Lumpia (which I enjoy both immensely.) It’s a bummer to me because any time I see something Filipino-influenced pop up, it seems to be a one-time experience. I don’t feel like you can turn people on to this food and it’s growing movement by just doing one dinner.

Richmond is kind of funny. It’s slightly oversaturated with middle of the road Asian restaurants and modern American restaurants with standard Asian undertones. All the restaurants seem to hit the same notes. Its flirtation with Asian food seems kind of forced and safe, if you catch my drift. It’s all the safe, approachable dishes/components in Asian food you recognize served with Southern ingredients and stylings. There are a couple of restaurants that are exceptions, but not Filipino.

I think Filipino food has so much potential here though. I’m hoping I can be a part of driving it forward in Richmond. I’ve got such a small cult following, but my customer base is loyal and consistent. I rely on their word of mouth with my limited promotion resources to push The Jackdaw further. I’m totally down for helping make Filipino food cool in Richmond. It’s not trendy to me. It makes total sense that this food should be popular everywhere. It has everything you need: salty, spicy, sweet, sour, crunchy, chewy flavors and textures…not to mention so much global influences, being Filipino food is the OG fusion food.

Your upcoming Kamayan Dinner on Aug. 21 is your last. Why? Any more Filipino food pop-ups planned in the near future?


It won’t necessarily be the last pop-up, but as far as the kamayan goes, definitely the last (for now.) I just don’t want to pigeonhole myself. The turnouts have been great and I should be going with my most popular dinners, but I like to shake things up and not beat something to death until no one takes notice. I like to end things on a high note and move on to the next. That’s the beautiful thing about The Jackdaw. The name allows me a level of freedom synonymous with the ability to change and adapt.

There are definitely more Filipino-inspired dinners in the works. I’m going to focus more on intimate, supper-club style events after the kamayan. I want to be able to engage the crowd more. I’m also planning a brunch pop-up in the near future as well.

What is your favorite Filipino food? Any story or memory attached to it?

It seems so silly, but Halo Halo. I don’t have too many memories as an adult that remind me of being a kid, but one spoonful of halo halo…and I feel like a giddy child again. It’s everything that I remember from being a kid except a lot more awesome.


Chicken Adobo is another one. It’s not that it is the best Filipino food I’ve ever had, but it certainly left the most lasting effect. One of my cooks made it for me a while back, and while I’ve had Filipino food as early as my youth: this was nothing like I’ve had before. I admire it’s simplicity in terms of preparation, but there’s nothing subtle about the punch of that vinegar and soy sauce. I loved it so much I make a variation of adobo about a couple of times a month for staff meal.

Pork Kaldereta is an ultimate comfort food for me too, especially when I’m feeling sick. There’s something about it.

Connect with Ian Merriman:

Instagram: @thejackdawrva

Twitter: @thejackdawrva

Facebook: @thejackdawrva

*Special thanks to Vanessa Lorenzo of Amusing Maria for keeping her finger on the pulse of Richmond and introducing me to Chef Ian.


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American Chef Hosts Filipino Food Events in Richmond, Virginia (A Q&A with Chef Ian Merriman)

The First Published Philippine Cookbook in America ( An Interview with a Filipino Cookbook Author)

Marilyn Ranada Donato

“No one can have too many cookbooks,” wrote Marilyn Donato in a letter that came with her autographed cookbook, Philippine Cooking in America. More than just to teach the uninitiated how to cook Filipino dishes, the cookbook adorned with the Philippine map on its front cover, aims to alleviate homesickness through food.



A full-blooded, Philippine-born and raised  Filipina who moved to the U.S. for her post graduate training in Dietetics, Marilyn knows what it’s like to long for our homeland’s food and be paralyzed from preparing it due to  lack of experience or know-how. Growing up in a country where live-in maids are not only a privilege reserved for the rich, many Filipinos took kitchen work for granted until they have to live abroad. Lucky if you move to a place where Filipino food vendors exist. Otherwise you are left at the mercy of your own cooking skills to satisfy your hunger for your native country’s  food – unless of course you can afford a Filipino cook abroad.

The first edition of Philippine Cooking in America hit the market in 1972 when there were hardly any Filipino cookbooks published in America. In fact, according to The Roanoke Times, this is believed to be the first published Philippine Cookbook in America. Forty-four years later and now on its eighth revised edition, Marilyn’ s cookbook with about 200 recipes, addresses the availability of new food products that make cooking a lot more fun and convenient.



MFB:  What was it like for you to live in the US in your twenties? What did you like most and what did you like the least about living in America then?

MD: Travel is and has always been a positive adventure for me.  I just loved meeting many new friends both Filipinos and Caucasians who were like family to me. I was so excited with my first snow fall, the autumn leaves, spring then summer. It is hard for me to think what was the least I liked, maybe becauseof my “Pollyanna” attitude or “anything goes”. I loved spontaneous invitations to visit a place, shop or eat someplace else.

MFB: When was the first edition of Philippine Cookbook in America conceived?  Please relate to us the story that prompted you to write this cookbook?

MD: Philippine Cooking in America was conceived in 1963 in New Haven, Connecticut. I was shopping for my cooking ingredients in the store owned by a Chinese lady, whom I’ve become friends with.  Her two daughters were my food servers at Yale Medical Center Hospital. In one of our conversations she said: “Marilyn, your country is the only one I do not have a cookbook from, why don’t you write a Philippine cookbook?” My pride was hurt a bit and I answered her back, “The Philippines has many published cookbooks!” But she planted the seed for me to do as she said.

MFB: Was this the first cookbook you authored? Please tell us about the challenges you went through to get a Philippine cookbook published and made available in bookstores in America.

MD: Philippine Cooking in America was the very first cookbook I authored. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagine that one day I would be publishing anything, and a cookbook at that. There were challenges but they were eased by my friendship with Mr. Glick who owned a publishing company for cookbooks in Boston, Massachusetts. According to him, next to the bible, cookbooks are the most published books.

Mr. Glicked helped and guided me on how to gather recipes from our Filipino friends, and how to distribute the finished cookbooks. My dear mother-in-law, my Ilocana live-in maid and my husband tested the recipes with me in the kitchen, writing down the procedures and measurements of ingredients. The several Filipino organizations, associations in America used the published “Philippine Cooking in America” cookbooks as their fund-raiser project and helped distribute them to Filipino stores and book stores. And since I was the syndicated food editor for several Philippine-American newspapers and magazines, a caption after each article, showed where the cookbook can be ordered from.

MFB: Who are your target readers for this cookbook?

MD: The target readers for “Philippine Cooking in America” are the whole Filipino population in the United States, Canada and Europe.


Marilyn Donato with thousands of her cookbook fan mail

MFB: You’ve sold tens of thousands of books and received thousands of letters from your readers. Which ones among the letters you received are the most memorable?

MD:  I remember letters about how their meals have become more delicious and reminiscent of their meals in the Philippines and about how they never thought they could cook like “experts”.  I also remember receiving a letter from a mixed household where the wife is American/Caucasian. She was so happy when her Filipino husband exclaimed: “Wow! How did you learn how to cook Filipino!”after tasting the Filipino dishes she prepared.

MFB: About how many percent of the population of Roanoke are of Filipino descent? What is the general perception on Filipinos and Filipino food in Roanoke?

MD: The population of Roanoke, VA is about 200,000 and about 5,000 are Filipinos….about 2.5 %. The general perception on Filipinos and Filipino food in Roanoke is admirable. The Filipinos in Roanoke are mostly physicians, nurses and wives of Americans. The hospitable and friendly characteristics of Filipinos in Roanoke predominate as we share our Filipino dishes with our American friends at work and in the community; when there are food festivals, church activities and school programs. We celebrate our Philippine Independence with parade and food galore as well as sale of Philippine decorations, wooden bowls, blouses, and my book “Philippine Cooking in America”.

MFB:Please describe the Filipino food scene in Roanoke? Virginia? Is Filipino food visible in the mainstream?

MD: In Roanoke, since most Filipinos are in the health field, there are no Filipino restaurants. But in Norfolk or Virginia Beach where Filipinos abound (maybe 50,000); there are Filipino eating places, markets and stores.

MFB: What advice can you give inexperienced and reluctant Filipino cooks abroad who long for Filipino food?

MD: It’s never too late in life to learn and perfect Philippine cooking. Be creative. Use substitutions the best you can, i.e. anchovies for “bagoong”. Or bring the jars of “bagoong” or bottles of ‘patis’, soy sauce, etc.When I was  new in Roanoke, I talked to the managers of the supermarkets to stock fresh ginger, soy sauce, some oriental vegetables and fruits, and they did!. There is no longer a lack of oriental food products. 

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The First Published Philippine Cookbook in America ( An Interview with a Filipino Cookbook Author)

From Dishwasher to Master Dish Innovator (An Interview with Timpla’s Co-Chef)

It’s an American Dream in the making. Or shall we say a Filipino- American Dream. Paolo Dungca, one of the founders and chefs of Timpla, a supper club in Washington DC, isn’t ashamed of his humble food beginnings.

Chef Paolo Dungca

Born in San Fernando, Pampanga and raised in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Paolo followed his mother and brother to the land of opportunity when he was thirteen. The United States has become his home since.

Paolo’s first job in the food industry was a dishwasher in a restaurant in Disneyland. Working there cemented his passion and aspirations to rise in the kitchen’s hierarchy. From the lowest rung of the ladder, Paolo toiled his way up. A few years later he was working elbow- to-elbow with distinguished chefs, such as Chef Kevin Meehan in Los Angeles, , Chef Jeffrey Buben in Washington, DC  and Chef Cathal Armstrong in Alexandria.

Together with his three teammates, Paolo utilizes his finely honed skills into creating masterful dishes for Timpla, a Filipino word for a blend or a mix. Just as their name suggests, their food is neither Filipino nor American, but a blend of their cultural identities – Filipino-American.


Timpla Team ( JR, Kristina, Katrina,  and Paolo)

 MFB: What was it like for you, of Filipino heritage, to move to the US?

PD: It was tough assimilating to a new country as a teenager because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but luckily we moved to Los Angeles, CA where there were many Filipinos. It felt like home. However, many Filipinos in LA couldn’t speak Tagalog, so interestingly the language barrier was just as apparent with Fil-Ams as it was with Americans.

In terms of food, I never really experienced a shift. When I moved to America I was old enough to understand the difference between Filipino and American cuisines. Furthermore, there are numerous Filipino joints in Los Angeles so I never really felt deprived: Jollibee was 10 minutes away from my house, Goldilocks was nearby, Gerry’s Grill, Seafood City, Chow King, etc. I always had Filipino food around me, unlike my Timpla teammates JR, Katrina, and Kristina, who growing up, had to travel 4-5 hours to the closest Jollibee.

MFB: How did you get started in food? What prompted you and your team to set-up Timpla?

PD: My first restaurant job was washing dishes at Golden Vine Winery (GVW) in Disneyland.


Golden Vine Winery in Disneyland

While working, I saw my friends in the kitchen cooking with pressed white coats and face glimmering from the grill fires. I wanted to be like them. So when a position opened up in the kitchen, I applied for it and became a line cook. That’s when I fell in love with cooking. I loved the adrenaline, the rush, the push, the intensity of the kitchen, and the true value of teamwork. I loved the process of creating something from start to finish, the reward of creating something delicious and seeing the satisfaction from guests. I worked at GVW for 3 years and worked my way from line cook to lead line. I enjoyed the ambience at GVW but wanted to expand my knowledge of culinary arts and learn about different cuisines and techniques.

After leaving GVW, I met Chef Kevin Meehan of Kali Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA.


Paolo (left) with Chef Kevin Meehan (right)

At the time, he was doing supper clubs and that was when I learned the ins and outs of running a supper club. He served contemporary California cuisine using local ingredients and modern techniques. It was under his mentorship that I realized that I wanted to imitate his style, but with Filipino cuisine.

In 2014, I moved to the east coast and worked at Vidalia in Washington, DC, where I was exposed to the fine dining scene in DC.


Vidalia: (Photo credit: Eater Washington DC)


Paolo with Chef Jeffrey BubenChef Paolo (right) with Chef Jeffrey Buben (left), owner & chef of Vidalia

While working at Vidalia, I was offered a sous chef position at an upcoming Filipino restaurant, Bad Saint. I helped open Bad Saint working alongside Chef Tom Cunanan, where I learned how to push the boundaries of Filipino cuisine. He taught me the importance of researching different regions in the Philippines and going in-depth to unearth the stories behind the dishes.


Bad Saint- Filipino Restaurant in DC


Paolo (left) with Chef Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint (right)

I am currently a sous chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Working under acclaimed Chef Cathal Armstrong has taught me the importance of using quality products to create the best food, as well as the grit and discipline needed to become a great restaurant.


Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo Credit: Restaurant Eve

Coincidentally, Chef Cathal is opening a Filipino, Thai and Korean Restaurant all under one roof in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront in fall 2017.  The upcoming Asian restaurant will be named after the Filipino word for left, Kaliwa.


Paolo with Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve

At Timpla, I implement the things I’ve learned from my experiences. My co-chef JR Rena and I tap our memories of Filipino dishes growing up and use our restaurant experiences to push the cuisine further. The story of how Timpla came about is a long one. You can read about it in our blog:

Timpla-Kinilaw na TalabaTimpla’s Kinilaw na Talaba (Oyster)

MFB: Please define your concept for Timpla. How is it different from other Filipino-themed supper clubs?

Timpla-KareKareChef Paolo’s version of Kare-Kare: Braised Oxtail, Charred Eggplant, Baby Bokchoy,Wild Mushrooms, Shrimp Paste Gel, Peanut Veloute

PD: Timpla’s supper club consists of a 5-course menu displaying Filipino dishes with modern culinary techniques and seasonal inspirations. As Filipino-Americans, we cannot distinguish ourselves as either Filipino or American, but as combinations of both cultures. When constructing our dishes, we take inspiration from our blended cultural upbringing, empowering us to push past the traditional and into the innovative. Our cuisine tells the complex, yet immensely gratifying story of finding your place in a melting pot culture. You can read more about the details here:


Timpla’s Crab Sinigang (Photo credit: @masterpupeteer)

MFB: Which Filipino dishes are the favorites/ bestsellers among your guests? What are the comments? 

PD: We don’t have a bestseller because the menu changes every supper club based on the seasons and what’s available at the farmers’ markets. One of the best comments we received is our “boldness” in not serving rice with our dishes. When we first started Timpla, one of our priorities was to eliminate rice because we believe Filipino dishes can stand on their own. We have achieved that, but with some push-back from more traditional guests who feel like their meals aren’t complete without rice.


Timpla’s Adobong Pugita (Photo Credit: Costa Photography)

MFB: What is your guest/target market profile?

PD:We get an interesting mix of attendees at our supper club: half are usually Fil-Ams who grew up eating traditional Filipino cuisine and are curious to try our modern interpretation; the other half are people who have never or seldom experienced Filipino food and are drawn to a supper club serving a cuisine they don’t know much about. We create an intimate setting of 10 guests per dinner and it’s been great hearing Filipino guests share with the non-Filipino guests their experiences with the dishes and their opinions on our interpretation.

Timpla Supper Club



Timpla’s Ginataang Soft Shell Crab

MFBHas Filipino food crossed over in DC? Why or why not?

It’s slowly becoming more exposed. Restaurants,such as Bad Saint, Purple Patch, and Restaurant Eve are showcasing flavors from the Philippines in different ways and educating diners on what Filipino cuisine is. They each have their own interpretation and present the food in their own way, but at the end of the day we’re all working towards bringing Filipino cuisine to the mainstream.

MFB: What is the general perception on Philippine cuisine in DC?

People just aren’t aware of it. Non-Filipinos haven’t had much of it with the exception of a Filipino neighbor’s party, or a Filipino friend bringing lumpia to a potluck. For Filipinos who grew up here, they expect traditional cuisine and are more critical of restaurants that make the food more upscale.


Timpla’s Sinigang: snapper, radish, tamarind dashi poured table side

MFB: What do you consider as your greatest challenges and accomplishments?

The greatest challenge would be pushing boundaries and presenting traditional dishes in a modern way, while still preserving authenticity. How do we make Filipino food elegant enough for non-Filipinos to enjoy, but at the same time retain the comfort and heart that reminds you of home? Additionally, we challenge ourselves to use seasonal high-quality ingredients at every supper club, which forces us to consistently change the menu. These challenges become our accomplishments when executed correctly and the guests go home with a new appreciation for Filipino cuisine.


Timpla’s Cassava Cake

MFB: What are your goals in the next few years?

PD:We want to continue with Timpla and expose people to the wonders of our cuisine. We want to keep researching in depth the different layers of our culture and hopefully travel to the homeland to experience the food ourselves and learn from the locals.

MFB: If someone asks you for advice about opening a Filipino-inspired restaurant in DC, what would you say?

PD: Just do it! Good luck!

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


Connect with Timpla:







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From Dishwasher to Master Dish Innovator (An Interview with Timpla’s Co-Chef)