Vanessa is a freelance travel writer, digital marketer, and passionate foodie from San Diego, California. As a freelancer, Vanessa travels 100% of the time, exploring sights, sounds, and tastes from around the world. With over 30 countries under her belt, Vanessa has encountered some pretty unique cultures. Although every place she goes takes a piece of her heart, Vanessa is most in love with the countries of Brazil and Austria.
Growing up in Southern California, I’ve always known Filipino culture to be one of the main flavors in our endlessly diverse melting pot. Walking through the mazes of San Diego’s strip mall restaurants, you can satisfy any craving that may have stricken you, from Ethiopian food, to fine French gourmet, to colorful Filipino.
Although you’re definitely able to get your hands on some good Pinoy offerings, the wealth of Filipino food available, especially of a pricier variety, can be tough to come by. Seeing as Filipinos are the largest group of Asian immigrants in Southern California, this realization left me rather puzzled. Why wasn’t Filipino food more prominent in my city?
Andrew Zimmern, of Travel Channel fame, once predicted that Filipino food would be the next craze in American cuisine, and that it would find its initial footing in San Diego. Although I hope he’s onto something, the proportion of Filipino-Americans to Filipino restaurants seems quite low. Some theories for why this may be range from the fact that Filipinos immigrated to the US in large numbers as trained nurses. This allowed them easy assimilation into American culture and may not have fostered the same necessity for using their cultural and culinary skills from abroad to earn a living in California. Others theorize that it may come down to the fact that no one can make traditional Filipino dishes as good as mom, and so most of the cuisine exists now only within the home. Although this theory certainly requires some further investigation, I can attest to the fact that a bustling Filipino household certainly doesn’t hold back for larger family gatherings and that, if you’re looking to experience some authentic Pinoy cuisine, try to saddle up next to a Filipino friend to bring you over for the next Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) feast.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a best friend with Philippine origins almost all my life. There’s nothing quite like sitting down in the dining room with her family to share some traditional Filipino fare. With the lechon, longanisa, and adobo flowing, I’ve had experiences so much more enriching than sitting down at a restaurant. I’ve been able to sit with them as they tell stories from the islands, swap recipes, and chatter away in their native Tagalog. Although we can’t all be so lucky to have a taste of the Philippines from within, if you’re ever offered the chance, TAKE IT!
I can’t say why Filipino restaurants haven’t become more of a dietary staple in the lives of Southern Californians. But luckily I have been fortunate enough to explore the culture and traditions of a large, vibrant, Filipino-American family. As time goes on, hopefully Pinoy restaurants will begin to take hold in California more powerfully and, when they do, I’ll be first in line to continue exploring Philippine fare.
When London-based Filipina entrepreneur and Maynila Supper Club co-founder Roni Bandong received an invite to join a cooking competition, she sent in an application, but didn’t raise her hopes too high. This was no small-time cooking competition after all. It was a nationwide televised event on Channel 4’s primetime TV series Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas! She knew what the odds were of being selected out of a slew of applicants.
A week before the shoot, Roni received the news: she was in! Panic set in.
It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of her life. On cook-off day, Roni was so nervous, she arrived on set an hour and a half before call time.
With only two and a half hours to whip up and plate their best Christmas alternative to traditional British holiday fare, the cooks scrambled in an unfamiliar kitchen. Roni just made it in the nick of time. She prepared the Filipino chicken relleno (baked chicken stuffed with chorizo, black olives and ground pork), which presenter Kirstie Allsopp called a knockout and Glasgow chef Jimmy Lee judged as the WINNER.
Let’s meet the woman who victoriously showcased Filipino food on UK’s national TV and who continues to actively promote the cuisine in London through supper clubs and events.
MFB: Where in the Philippines are you from?
RB: My father is from Pangasinan and my mother is from Tarlac but I grew up in Laguna and Alabang. In my working years, I lived in Makati City.
MFB: When and why did you immigrate to the U.K.?
RB:I came to the UK in September 2002. I’ve always wanted to live and work overseas, specifically in Europe, so when the opportunity came and with my parents’ blessing, I grabbed it.
MFB: What was the move to the UK like for you?
RB:The move was daunting because I didn’t know anybody in London, well, except for my British friend, who convinced me and helped me make the move. I didn’t have family or friends in London, so I had no support system. It was difficult. There was so much adjusting required. There were times when I felt alone and lost, but I had to pull myself together to survive.
MFB: Tell us about Maynila.
RB:The concept of Maynila started around 2011, when Charl Asuit and I met at the founding of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association UK (UPAA-UK). After every meeting, we would all go out for a meal. We decided where to go alphabetically, from A, B, C and so on. When we reached F, we thought Filipino! But there was nowhere we could go. That was how Maynila was born.
Kamayan Feast: Maynila Supper Club, London
We talked about it for almost 3 years. We even went to New York to do our research on Filipino restaurants: what dishes they served, service, customer profile, marketing, and anything we can learn. While we were doing our research, pop ups and supper clubs suddenly became popular in London. This trend made us execute our plan of bringing modern Filipino food to the British public by working with Filipino chefs living in London. In April 2015, we launched our inaugural pop up, where we did 71 covers in 2 sittings in one night. It was a baptism by fire! We followed this up with a Kamayan Night and Noche Buena.
Kamayan Night: Maynila Supper Club UK
In 2016, we decided to do the food ourselves as this gave us more flexibility. We will, however, still work with Filipino chefs wanting to collaborate with us to do pop ups. We also launched the Walton Supper Club and expand to food festivals.
This year, Maynila is busy with the Walton Farmer’s market every first Saturday of the month, Walton Supper Club every second Saturday of the month, Chefs Across Continents Pop Up on March —where I team up with my co-contestants on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas to cook an eight-course tasting menu from four countries in three continents. Maynila will also be found in various food festivals in and around London.
MFB:Please describe the Filipino food scene in London?
RB: The Filipino food scene is slowly coming up on the radar with the opening of Romulo Cafe last year and the various active groups doing supper clubs. It is bubbling and about to explode. All that is needed is opening more brick- and-mortars to send diners to.
MFB: How are Filipinos viewed in London?
RB: Oh, this is a tricky question and I will answer this based on my experience living here. If you ask an average Brit about Filipinos, they would associate us as to nursing, care giving or looking after children as a nanny. I think this is because these are the common occupations of Filipinos in the UK. Of course, we have those in the corporate world, either as regular employees or expats and they are well regarded by their colleagues. MFB: How is Filipino food viewed by the general public?
RB:Filipino food is generally unknown in the UK. Those who know are those who have Filipino friends. But the average Brit will have no clue. Some of them can’t even find the Philippines on the map! MFB:What do you consider as the greatest challenge in promoting Philippine cuisine in London/UK?
RB:The greatest challenge is making it known and making it readily available to the British public. Appearing on TV shows or joining cooking competitions are good publicity and can help up the profile of Filipino food faster, but we need more PR and places for people to go. MFB: If you could only eat one Filipino dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
RB:I will go for sinigang. This is my comfort food. This brings me home.
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.
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?
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:
(Named one of the “Top Five Food-Related Instagrams To Follow Right Now”on San Diego Eater)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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?
CAP: The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 that 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?
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 Restaurantin 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.