What’s an Apple Doing in a Lechon’s Mouth?

Was there a reason, beyond copycatting others’ common practice, for stuffing a lechon’s mouth with an apple? Maybe to deliver a moral lesson? That like Adam and Eve, “behold what befalls you if you pig out on the forbidden fruit”?


Or was it to hint on the piggy’s diet before it was executed? “Hey look! This hog was fed with nothing but delicious apples! Can you imagine the delicate fruity flavor of its superior meat? Yum!”

Or was it to sugarcoat the swine’s demise to ease eaters’ conscience? “Don’t worry, the pig died happily ever after eating an imported (yes, apples are not endemic to the Philippines) fruit that its relatives from distant orchards are known to love.”

Well, for Filipino- Norwegian Christian Andre Pettersen, Norway’s 2017 Chef of the Year, the impact was none of the above. In his personal story in the forthcoming book, The Migrant Filipino Kitchen, he was a little boy when he first encountered an apple-mouthed lechon at a fiesta in the Philippines. The memory remains vivid, a whole pig spread out belly down on the buffet table—legs, face, snout and all—on full display with an apple adorning its gaping mouth. Despite the bright red fruit, pity was the overriding emotion Christian felt. Because he associated the roasted comestible with a living being, no coaxing and cajoling could make him stomach eating the poor piggy.

Photo credit: I heart CDO

While lechon is a Spanish word referring to a roast suckling pig, in the Philippines it refers to a whole roasted pig (young or old) in general. The dish itself has a cultural connotation in the country. It is a symbol of celebration—a communal event when folks get together to prepare, cook and feast. The slow-roasted hog becomes the centerpiece for fiestas, Christmas, New Year celebrations and other big events. An occasion isn’t grand enough without it.

Lechon is delicious. No doubt about that. But does the apple adorning the gaping facial cavity make it more delicious?

Many different cultures have been roasting pigs as far back as thousands of years ago in places such as Polynesia, China, the Middle East and Europe. However, reference to the custom of accessorizing the mouth with an apple dates back at least 800 years. Evidence of this time-honored tradition can be found in paintings where this iconic meal is served for medieval feasts.  Legends for why this tradition exists are plentiful and vary greatly from region to region and family to family. Some believe that the apple’s placement is meant to symbolize the cycle of life and death. In springtime these infant pigs are raised on the fresh apples that grow amply in the region. Served feasting on an apple, even in death, pays homage to the life and sacrifice of the pig. This macabre detail is in keeping with Filipino values of life and the celebration of death. In many other cultures death is something to be distanced from, but in Pinoy culture death is seen as a part of the grander cycle of life and is not to be feared. (A morbid way to show it though, don’t you think?)


Other legends of the apple are more practical in nature. Some believe that without the apple to keep the pig’s snout and throat open, gases would be produced during the roasting that may cause the lechon to explode. This is a load of BS, however, as the apple is usually placed fresh into the mouth after the pig has finished cooking. Others claim that an apple is a helpful garnish to ease the unpleasantness of staring into the ghastly mouth that’s been forced opened by skin shrinkage during  roasting. Either way, the image of the apple in the mouth has become inextricably tied to the image of lechon.

Lechon is delicious. No doubt about that. But does the apple adorning its gaping facial cavity make it more delicious?

So, to answer the question if the apple has an impact on the taste, I say it depends.

Strictly speaking, it doesn’t. But if you think that a lechon looks more alluring or appalling adorned with a fruit famed for keeping the doctor away, then yes. As you know, perception of taste is greatly influenced by our sense of sight.

Would you put an apple in a lechon’s mouth? Chef Christian didn’t. Instead, he served pork deboned and used the apple as a slaw to accompany the dish.

How do you prefer to see a lechon?



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What’s an Apple Doing in a Lechon’s Mouth?

Migrant Filipino Food Stories & Recipes Get a Book Deal— Against All Odds!

Less than two months ago, a sudden surge of energy spurred me to jump in the air till I cramped, shimmy till I was blackmailed and fist pump till I felt I was Pacquiao. No. I didn’t snort crack or anything like that. I simply received an offer to publish our Filipino food anthology project. Oh, so you think I’m exaggerating? You won’t think so once you read this story.

More than a year ago, I had the privilege of speaking with someone who’s been-there-and-done- that in the book publishing world. When I asked about the chances of getting a collection of stories and recipes traditionally published (meaning book publishers, not I, pay for the cost of publishing), her initial reaction gave her away. I knew it was going to be, not just an uphill struggle, but a HELL of an uphill struggle.

Truth be told, the expert, who to this day I regard with high esteem, didn’t stomp my hopes and dreams right off the bat. Instead, we looked high and low for similar books on the market and researched how they were doing. An apples-to-apples comparison was rather difficult, as this project is one of a kind: more story-driven than most other cookbooks. Anyhow, the most similar books we could find were Filipino cookbooks. To say the least, the number of traditionally published titles on Filipino food in the food category of Amazon were probably as little as the number of Filipino restaurants – not in America— but in Europe as a continent! That’s heartbreakingly miniscule. In fact, if you go to Amazon’s Books: Asian Food Category, a drop-down list of cuisines includes Korean, Vietnamese and even Wok Cooking, but not Filipino. Out of the few Filipino food titles, not a single one at that time, ranked within the 100,000 of Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank. Apparently, publishers look at these markers when deciding whether it’s worth their time and money to publish a book.

I’m sure you’ve heard how difficult it is to have any kind of book published in the uber-competitive land of the U.S. these days. If getting a book published is like climbing the Matterhorn, publishing an anthology (which is reputably more difficult to pitch), in an untraditional format (part memoirs, part cookbook), centered on Filipino food (which historically hasn’t demonstrated blockbuster potential), written by mostly new authors, and an editor (moi), who’s not even from the US for that matter would be like climbing the Matterhorn in a wheel chair, on a foggy day and with snow on the route.

Luckily, our prospect of getting published went from almost zilch to very likely when I delivered a 100+-page pitch aka book proposal that I’d labored over with blood, sweat, and tears for several months. Before I knew it, the project has a book agent.

An excruciating wait followed. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, strands of my hair turned into grey, still—no offers. Though publishers, even imprints of some of The BIG FIVE, bit the pitch and requested for the full proposal, even a newbie like me knew that interest hardly translates to an offer. More weeks and months passed. NOTHING . . . just a slow torturous trickle of “we’ll pass” replies with some odd demoralizing comments. I started giving self-publishing some thought.

On July 10, the moment I’ve been dreaming of came. AN OFFER! A week after—ANOTHER OFFER! But it wasn’t over. The painful process of waiting to cement the deal ensued and the state of being in limbo commenced again. Many more sleepless nights of bridled excitement, fear and uncertainty paralyzed me from moving on. A litany of what ifs seized me.

Watching the sun rise on the island of Crete while reading the publishing contract

Thanks to our agent, details were negotiated, the contract was reviewed and discussed, re-reviewed and re-discussed, rinse, repeat. Without her I would probably have signed the contract blindly just to spare myself from the agony. One day, when I thought I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer, the deal was signed with Agate Surrey. Agate Surrey has published award-winning writing on food for 30 years, with authors ranging from Food Network stars and James Beard Award winners to former food editors and contributors to the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, and Chicago Tribune. Thank you, Agate, for believing in the power of Filipino food and people.

I won’t forget comments we had received from others, such as, “I’m not seeing a Filipino cuisine trend coming,” or “We have tried without success to rouse an interest in a book on Filipino cooking,” or “We’re not confident we would be able to break this project out on a large scale.” These words will continue to haunt and challenge.

Let’s prove them wrong.

We’ve climbed the Matterhorn. Now we’re going to tread harsher terrain with a series of strict deadlines to meet, before setting off on the next gargantuan challenge: The Mount Everest of all uphill struggles—how to get this book a top-ten spot on the bestselling lists published by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, or the USA today on a shoestring budget and at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is raging through the Western World. I know I can’t do it alone. But together—we can. PEOPLE’S POWER!

Tentative book release: Fall 2018.

Foreword to be written by two-time James Beard award-winning writer, John Birdsall.

John Birdsall

A huge thank you and congratulations to the 30 amazing contributing authors, including The White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford! I’m also very grateful to our food photographer and stylist, Rowena Dumlao-Giardina; she soldiers on with the daunting task of styling and shooting the dishes on a tight deadline.  And last but not least, many thanks to all of you, who liked, followed and supported My Food Beginnings. Thank you for your continued belief and support in this project and what it represents. We can’t wait to get a copy in each of your hands.



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Migrant Filipino Food Stories & Recipes Get a Book Deal— Against All Odds!

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)

An Outsider’s View of Filipino Food

GUEST POST by Vanessa Famighetti

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.

Filipino food 3

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?

Filipino food 1

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!

Filipino food 2

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.


My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project

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An Outsider’s View of Filipino Food

Filipina Wins Cook-off on UK Primetime TV (a Q&A with co-founder of Maynila in London)

roni Roni Bandong

 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.

rellenong-manok-maynila-580x400-1Chicken Relleno by Roni Bandong

roni-winnerPhoto credit: Inquirer.net

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.


roni-kamayanKamayan 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-maynilaKamayan 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.



Maynila’s Walton Supper Club

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.


Chefs Across Continents – Roni Bandong with Carine Ottou, Dare Oni, and Natalie Griffith

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.

roni-sinigangSalmon sinigang by Roni Bandong

Connect with Roni Bandong:

Instagram: @britnoy09 and @eatmaynila

Twitter: @negosyante101 and @eatmaynila

Website: http://www.maynila.co.uk


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Filipina Wins Cook-off on UK Primetime TV (a Q&A with co-founder of Maynila in London)

“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)


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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)


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