Regional Filipino cuisine at the James Beard House

Dinuguan, tinagtag and other regional Filipino dishes showcased at James Beard House dinner

Dinardaraan (dinuguan in Tagalog) served at a James Beard House Dinner? Yes, please.

It’s about time. The classic Filipino dish – pork meat and offal stew cooked in pig’s blood, vinegar and spices – made its way to the James Beard House by way of the sold out Regional Filipino cuisine dinner last week.

Five chefs and restaurateurs from across the United States travelled to New York City to cook regional Filipino dishes. About a hundred James Beard guests, subscribers and guests savored the five-course dinner.

San Francisco-based Chef Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage, Chef Lou Boquila of Perla in Philadelphia; Chef Carlo Lamagna of Magna in Portland, Oregon; Chef Melissa Miranda of Musang from Seattle, Washington; and Chef Miguel Trinidad of Maharlika/Jeepney in New York City prepared appetizers and entrees based on traditional dishes from different regions in the Philippines. Each course was paired with wine carefully selected by the James Beard sommelier.

The dining experience began with a reception where five hors d’oeuvres prepared by the chefs were served. We missed a couple – kinilaw and itlog – but we had paella negra, Snake River Farms wagyu beef tartare and rellenong tahong as we enjoyed Tanduay Rum cocktails prepared by Kevin Dietrich and Tim Walters.

Then we were led to the second floor of the house for the main event.

Chef Lou Boquila prepared escabeche, made out of Spanish octopus with atchara, red pepper and sugar cane vinegar palm sugar gel.

Born in the Philippines, Chef Lou draws on his Filipino background for inspiration in the kitchen. He is passionate about creating innovative dishes and inspiring others to expand their palates. He wants to introduce the distinctive food he has known since childhood.

He opened Perla – named after his mom – in 2016 in the East Passyunk neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Up next was Chef Melissa Miranda’s sarciado (fried Skuna Bay salmon with egg sauce, tomato and scallions).

After spending time teaching English in Florence, Italy, Chef Melissa, a native of Seattle, came back to the US with a culinary degree and six years of Italian cooking experience. In Italy she learned about flavor, freshness and seasonality.

She holds occasional Musang popup dinners, where she blends the skills she learned in Italy with the Filipino flavors of her childhood. Musang, she shared with us later, is her father’s nickname.

Chef Miguel Trinidad is the only non-Filipino among the chefs but with his Dominican heritage and New York upbringing, he understands that pushing Filipino food forward in the culinary spotlight means thinking outside the box. Formally trained at the Institute of Culinary Education, he was a “rookie” chef when tapped to be the Executive Chef at Soho hotspot, Lola.

Miguel honed his skill and love for Filipino cuisine on a three-month exploration across the island nation. His travels and his focus on Filipino food since 2007 have brought him credibility in the Filipino community as proven by how far both Maharlika and Jeepney have gone.

For the dinner, he prepared pancit Isabela (rich beef broth with noodles, poached quail egg and savory topping).

The fourth course was the above-mentioned dinardaraan (Kurobuta pork collar with blood soil sarsa, savory suman, pig’s ear chicharon, pickled onions and mustasa), prepaid by Philippine-born and Detroit-raised Chef Carlo Magna.

He went to school at the Culinary Institute of America and created the pop-up dinner series, Twisted Filipino. He is the soon-to-be chef/owner of the fully Kickstarter-funded restaurant, Magna in Portland.

An FBI – Full Blooded Ilocano (his dad is from San Nicolas, Pangasinan and his mom is from Aparri, Cagayan Valley), Chef Carlo loves the big, bold flavors of Filipino cuisine. His favorite dishes to eat? Anything goat, the trifecta of kaldereta, pinapaitan and kilawin.

For dessert, our last course, Chef Francis Ang served tinagtag (Maguindanao fritter with passion fruit, persimmons and parsnip).

Chef Francis is behind SF’s Pinoy Heritage, along with a team led by his wife Dian, and fellow visionaries Danica and other industry friends. They serve dishes that are experimental, forward-thinking, and, above all, made with the freshest local ingredients.

Ang transplanted to San Francisco at the age of 19 where he attended the culinary program at City College of San Francisco. Once he graduated, he landed an internship at the Copenhagen Bakery in Burlingame and shortly after, found himself working at Gary Danko. Francis was lucky enough to be trained under Gary Danko himself and forged his career path even further.

Our taste buds were having a party, enjoying the rich, complex flavors of dishes most Americans (and probably a handful of Filipinos) haven’t tasted or heard of before.

Filipino Food Movement

Filipino Food Movement President Sonia Delen was overwhelmed with the success of the event, and remarked that it is her organization’s vision to have Filipino cuisine be more accessible to foodies and patrons around the United States.

“We are so happy with the outcome tonight, and I am so thrilled that there are Filipinos who flew from all over the country just for this dinner,” she shared.

FFM co-director and founder Joanne Boston, a FYLPRO alumna, expressed her pride in seeing her legacy project come to fruition. She added, “It is surreal to see the James Beard House serve a full-course Filipino dinner to a capacity crowd. I truly feel the love tonight.”

After this event, the Filipino Food Movement is gearing up to start planning the third Savor Filipino food festival. The organization really kicked off in 2014 during the first Savor Filipino food festival where they expected 10,000 attendees and ended up with 30,000!

“Since then we have built a strong social media presence and continue to focus on building support for those who produce Filipino food, as well as educating and providing resources to anyone who is interested in experiencing and learning about the cuisine,” Boston told the Asian Journal. “The Regional Filipino Celebration at the James Beard House is the first event we’ve done outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and we are excited to see where it takes the movement.”

Consul General Ma Theresa Dizon-De Vega was among the diners that evening. She described the event as a truly defining moment for Philippine cuisine, as the Filipino Food Movement took a giant leap forward with the singular honor to be featured at the James Beard House.

Why Regional Filipino

Gathering the five chefs together for this historic dinner was not an easy task.

“Our friend, Chef Paolo Dungca was visiting San Francisco from Washington, DC. We were at a Fil-Am restaurant and he said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had Filipino food at the James Beard House in NYC?” I picked up my phone right then and there and texted our other friend Chef Sheldon Simeon in Maui who I knew was already known at the Beard House,” Boston shared.

Sheldon delivered and got the ball rolling for the group.

“Without hesitation, I said yes right away,” Chef Carlo said, recalling the time when he was asked if he wanted to cook at the JBH.

“As a young cook, there are certain goals you set for yourself. To be able to cook at such a revered institution was one of them for myself. To be a part of a team representing Filipino cuisine and culture at such a high level is amazing and exciting for all of us. James Beard is often referred to as the father of American cuisine, and to be able to be part of that story through cooking at the James Beard House, is truly humbling and an honor,” he added.

With the diversity of the cuisine in the Philippines in mind, the team decided to showcase and highlight dishes from the various regions of the country.

“The menu itself is inspired by the many regions of the Philippines.  We are set on showcasing the many flavors and techniques that the Philippines has to offer. As young chefs, we are excited to bring our skill and training to the table, and giving our interpretations of some classic dishes,” Lamagna said.

Boston talked about how Filipino food can be more accessible and understood by Americans and basically everyone.

“Though some Filipino dishes aren’t for everyone, I would love for them to get to know the cuisine and understand it a little better before they go ahead and reject it. People will understand the food, the people, and the history of the Philippines if they take the time to research and eat it,” she said.

“What I do take issue with are those who refuse to eat certain foods because of their colonized mentality. Like dinuguan,” Boston continued. “People say it’s inhumane to eat it. That it’s dirty and not “proper” or “classy” or whatever. This is why people of other cultures do not eat our food: our own people feel embarrassed to eat our food. That’s so sad.”

Which is why putting it on the menu for the JBH dinner was such a statement. The dinuguan dish may not have been served the traditional way (the blood was used a sauce or gravy) but just pushing it forward along with the other heretofore unknown or unfamiliar regional Filipino dishes.

Which is why the dinner at the iconic JBH was historic in many aspects.

Showcasing the talents of the upcoming and established chefs pushing Filipino cuisine in America is analogous to the James Beard Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable.

Which is why each of the courses served at the dinner had a corresponding wine to match, proof that Filipino dishes can be eaten and enjoyed more with a glass or two of wine.

Which is why there should be more Filipino dinners at the James Beard House, and more Filipino restaurants in the United States and more Filipino-American chefs pushing the envelope for the Filipino Food Movement.

“My dream is that Filipino cuisine in general is not looked upon as a trend, but as a standard alongside the many other cuisines that are prevalent on the market today,” Chef Carlo said when I asked what his dream for Filipino cuisine is. “My hope is that the food will maintain its heart, soul, and integrity through this growing process.”

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