Karenderya: How a Filipino Restaurant in Nyack Made it to Esquire Magazine’s Best Restaurants in America 2018

Karenderya, a Filipino inspired restaurant, opened its doors in the suburban village of Nyack in July 2017.

Last November, the fast casual restaurant was named in Esquire Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America 2018 list.

According to Esquire, “In the future, we pray, thousands of small towns in America will have Filipino restaurants as excellent as this one, with adobo pork belly braised to crispy meltiness atop garlic rice, and shrimp aswim in a coconut broth that tastes like French cream, and a cassava-jackfruit cake that comes across like a cobbler in which the topping and the filling have magically merged, and a smart beer list that highlights the best of Hudson Valley breweries.”

The owners, Paolo Garcia Mendoza and Cheryl Baun, were beyond thrilled.

Karenderya is located at 248 Main Street in Nyack, New York.

“That was completely crazy, totally unexpected,” Cheryl said, remembering the moment. “It was a validation, not that we needed one because we’ve known that this food is good all along. Not our food in particular but Filipino food in general. It feels like a win for our culture and for Filipino food.”

Indeed, chalk it up as a major win.

Business tripled, quadrupled even as people began to flock to Karenderya to see what the fuss was about. How could this small gem of an eatery in Nyack nab a place in the esteemed magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America list?

But first we asked them, how did it happen?

Jeff Gordinier, the food and drinks editor of Esquire, is a local in the area and he went to the restaurant.

“I recognized when he first came in because I follow him on Instagram,” Cheryl recalled. “He did introduce himself, he was a very friendly guy and we started chatting. The restaurant wasn’t busy at the time so we talked about the food and it was a nice conversation.”

That was the end of it, or so she thought. Here was a nice guy with his family eating our food.

Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce

“It never occurred to us that he would ever write about us. The best that I hoped for was maybe he would post something on Instagram. I would have been so happy with that,” Cheryl shared.

A few months later, the magazine contacted them for a possible feature.

“That was a huge shock when it came out,” she remarked. “It’s still so hard to believe.”

They were expecting a restaurant listing, or maybe even a part of a feature on Hudson Valley restaurants. What they did not expect at all was their Karenderya being named as one of the Best New Restaurants in America for 2018.

“It’s a big deal, a huge deal. Isipin mo, hindi lang New York City, or Hudson Valley ang coverage, hindi lang east coast. It’s the whole America!,” Paolo exclaimed.

A trio of appetizers: asparagus, lumpia and PEI mussels

After Esquire

“We see more Filipinos now that we have gotten some attention,” Cheryl said smiling. “It almost seems like it is more validation for the Filipinos who might have been skeptical.”

The restaurant’s clientele has always been very diverse, from locals who were not familiar with the food at first, to regulars who come from the neighborhood, to day trippers from New York and New Jersey who make the drive during the weekends.

Growing roots

More than two years ago, Cheryl and Paolo decided to open a space in Nyack, a village in Rockland County that is about 20 miles north of Manhattan. Paolo as the chef would be in charge of the kitchen while Cheryl would handle some of the business side, including dealing with community and media.

Shrimp Adobo, cooked with rice vinegar/coconut milk broth, yams and served with crispy shallots

Cheryl grew up in the Rockland County area while Paolo grew up in Manila. They moved back to the area when their son was born.

“We chose this town because it is a very artsy town. We knew that if we were to open a restaurant, it would be here in Nyack. Parang ito yung Brooklyn ng Rockland County,” they said.

They chose the name as homage to the Filipino carinderia, which are market or roadside eateries in the Philippines.

The couple saw that opening a Filipino restaurant in the area is an opportunity for them “to share our food, but more than that, we want it to be a gathering place.”

Bicol Express (pork braised in spicy coconut milk).

That is how Karenderya has been in the past year, a place where people would come in and have a full experience, eat well, enjoy the food and feel the welcoming space. It is a place where couples can have drinks and still bring their kids, they can eat and linger if they want while the kids play in one corner.

“We serve the food that we love. If you’re Filipino and you look at our menu, you’d see a lot of things that are familiar. Occasionally, you’ll see some things with a twist,” Cheryl said.

On their menu are silog bowls, from the traditional tapa and longganisa to chicken tocino and pork ribs adobo. For first timers who are not familiar with Filipino food, these dishes can be served as a sandwich and they will get the same full Filipino flavors.

Adobo Pork Belly (pork belly braised in soy, vinegar and garlic and served with hard-boiled egg)

Paolo previously worked in fine dining restaurants and he knew that when he opened his own, it would be relaxed, casual and comfortable place for everyone to enjoy, including families with small children.

He insists on serving some traditional dishes and mixes it up with his creations. An example of this would be their pork ribs sinigang. It does not look like sinigang at all but when you taste it, all the flavors of the dish are there.

His secret for the dish? No sinigang mixes, he uses tamarind puree, which makes the broth a little darker. He sears off the meat as well, which gives it the dark brown color and more flavor.

The dark Pork Ribs Sinigang (pork ribs in sour tamarind broth, bok choy, long beans, served with rice)

“I have to give props to Cendrillon because they were the first ones to do this. I don’t want to use the word elevate. Sila yung pioneers ng modern Filipino cuisine,” Paolo said.

Karenderya is Paolo’s first Asian restaurant. He previously worked in restaurants that focused on French and new American cuisine and his last job was a sous chef at Roost, a restaurant in Rockland. He also interned at Tabla, owned by Floyd Cardoz.

When he started studying culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in 2003, Cendrillon was the only Filipino restaurant in the city and as early as then, Paolo has dreamt of opening his own Filipino place some day.

Years later, Maharlika and Jeepney opened and people started talking about Filipino food. He knew the timing was good. He quit his job and they opened Karenderya.

Weekend Special: Kare Kare

Two years in and the couple are working extra hard to keep the restaurant running. They know that it is a tough business, and they are prepared. The couple is thankful that Esquire played a major role in their journey so far and made things a tad easier for them.

From “getting work permits, paper work, food cost and providing high quality dishes to handling staff and customers,” Cheryl and Paolo’s hands are full, facing day to day operational challenges.

“People ask us ‘when are you opening in this place or that place’ and we don’t really think of it that way. We just try to think of how to make this the best that it can be. You can always make something better.

Our guess our dream for this restaurant is to just be the best in that, and make sure that people have a great experience from the moment they walk through the door and the time they leave,” Cheryl said.

Eating in NYC* [Harbs]

In between interviews at NYAFF, went around Ninth Avenue in search for coffee and dessert.

I’ve been meaning to visit Harbs for a while now. It is a Japanese cake boutique similar to Lady M. They have mille crepes too, like this one below. In between the sheets of crepe are fruits like kiwi, strawberry and banana.

I didn’t finish my share so I asked for a to go box. They asked how long will I be out (it was very warm and humid outside). They put the cake inside an insulated paper bag and added a couple of gel ice packs.

Mille Crepes from Harbs. This location in NYC is the bakeshop’s first US location. They have more than 30 in Japan.

Banana Cream Pie. As Filipino dessert lovers would quip, ‘Masarap. Hindi masyadong matamis.’ 🤓

Yes. They’re that pricey. $100 for an entire cake.

Eating in NYC* [Le Grainne]

I’ve been to Le Grainne twice, but for brunch. It’s a French bistro in Chelsea with a very Parisian vibe. This was my first time having dinner there.

The steak au poivre was calling my name. For $24, served with greens (haricot verts) and mashed potato, I think it’s quite a steal.

I didn’t realize though that it meant pepper steak, literally. (I thought it was steak a la pobre, like the a la pobre we know back in the Philippines. Boy, was I mistaken.) Traditionally, filet mignon is coated with loosely cracked peppercorns, then seared and served with a rich sauce.

Pepper. Lots of pepper.

The place is small but the atmosphere is lively. Outdoor seats during the summer.

Eating in NYC* [Badshah]

Walking around Hell’s Kitchen brought us to Badshah, a modern Indian restaurant with bright interiors.

Ordered the butter chicken ($22) and the grandma goat curry ($22). Both were good, the curry more on the spicy side. Basmati rice ($4) was extra order, the dishes did not come with it.

Then came payment time. They included a gratuity of 20%. Which was unusual because other restaurants don’t do it that way. Then when the receipt arrived for me to sign, there was another space for “tip”.

Grandma Goat Curry

Butter Chicken

20% gratuity was added.

And left a space for “tip” with the suggested amounts below. One reason why you should always check your restaurant bill.

The food was goodsha, but they way they do tips, badshah.

The Rise of Filipino Cuisine in America

Filipino Cuisine Gains Visibility in America

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Two Purveyors – Tom Cunanan & Margarita Manzke – Get James Beard Nods

2018 is off to a great start for Filipino cuisine in America as mainstream publications and diners continue to talk about it with passion and more curiosity than ever.

Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for their annual awards bestowed on the best chefs in America today.

Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint in Washington, DC made it to finalists list again for the honor of Best Chef (Mid-Atlantic). Margarita Lorenzana-Manzke of Sari Sari Store and Republique in Los Angeles and Wildflour in Manila is one of five finalists for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and furthers the Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.

Also last week, the New York Times published a treatise on where Filipino cuisine in America is today and how a generation of Filipino and Filipino-American chefs and restaurateurs are pushing the cause forward.

Entitled “Filipino Food Finds a Place in the American Mainstream,” the article dwelled on, among other things, bagoong and how Filipino food entered the American mainstream.

“The article is seminal:  it’s a defining moment for Filipino food–it doesn’t need to be dumbed down in order for it to translated for or admired by the mainstream.  Filipino food doesn’t need to be gimmicky or trendy to be craved. Rather the food can be just as it is—honest, favorable and unique,” Nicole Ponseca told the Asian Journal.

“The New York Times answers the question that has long been circulated amongst Filipinos and foodies:  Why did it take Filipino food so long to go mainstream? Ligaya Mishan’s influential article and previous reviews on Filipino food hint that our food is best when we do it on our terms with the bold flavors that define the cuisine,” she added.

While other Asian cuisines have been part of the American dining scene for decades now – Chinese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese – it is only in the recent years that Filipino dishes started gaining recognition outside the packets of Filipino communities and enclaves across the United States.

This recognition comes in many forms and formats, including full page features on chefs and dishes, such as the Los Angeles Times feature on halo-halo, specifically, how to make it like world-class pastry chef Margie Manzke. The article described the classic dessert as “deeply emblematic” and “homey, craveable and just a little weird”.

Last year, Vogue came up with an article entitled “How Filipino Food is Becoming the Next Great American Cuisine” noting that it has been five years since food writer Andrew Zimmern predicted Filipino cuisine was going to become “the next big thing”.

Then we have the social media influencers on Instagram and YouTube venturing into Filipino cuisine by way of Jollibee and dessert enthusiasts devouring ube in any variation or usage – from sundae swirls to lattes and fillings.

A Bloomberg report last year said that Google searches for “Filipino food” have doubled since 2012 and entries for “lumpia near me” rose to an astonishing 3,350 percent.

Around May 2017, Pulitzer Prize winner and food critic Jonathan Gold wrote that the “time for Filipino cuisine is now” and “the place is Los Angeles,” he added.

And that’s where we slightly beg to differ.

The place is not just Los Angeles, it is America. Well, at least in the major cities of these United States.

Los Angeles is home to a number of chefs who are talked about in the industry circles for their inventive take on Filipino food – Alvin Cailan (Eggslut), Charles Olalia (Ricebar), Chad and Chase Valencia (Lasa), Ryan Garlitos (Irenia), Johneric Concordia (Park’s Finest) and Isa Fabro.

Then, there’s Hawaii where Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon owns and operates the lunch spot Tin Roof. This summer, he is set to open Lineage in Maui. According to the website Eater, the dishes at Lineage are designed to be shared and derived from Simeon’s own family recipes from the Philippines as well as recipes that are a part of traditional Hawaiian cuisine.

In Texas is Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui, who is slowly reclaiming his spot in the industry after a much-publicized domestic abuse meltdown in 2016. The James Beard Award-winning chef opened Aqui in Houston last year and hired fellow Filipino-American chef Gabriel Medina as chef de cuisine and Jillian Bartolome as pastry chef. Bartolome is a semifinalist this year at the James Beard Awards for Oustanding Pastry Chef.

New York, on the other hand is home to Romy Dorotan & Amy Besa (Purple Yam), Miguel Trinidad & Nicole Ponseca (Jeepney and Maharlika), King Phojanakong (Kuma Inn), Dale Talde (Talde and Rice & Gold), Leah Cohen (Pig & Khao and Piggyback Bar JC), Jordan Andino (Flip Sigi), Neil Syham (Lumpia Shack), among others.

Through the years, we have seen the evolution and growth of these movers.

Most, if not all of them, worked hard and persevered to open their own brick and mortar stores now. Dorotan and Besa have been helping push Filipino forward for more than two decades now, after opening Cendrillon in Soho in 1995 and gaining fame and a loyal clientele as a neighborhood restaurant. They closed shop after more than a decade and reopened in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn as Purple Yam in 2009. Five years later, they opened Purple Yam in Malate, one of the oldest historical districts in Manila.

Maharlika started in January 2011 as a weekend pop-up brunch place in the East Village, until Ponseca & Trinidad gained more than enough experience and guts to open Maharlika ten months later. In 2012, the two opened Jeepney also on First Avenue and helped propel the eventual explosion of Filipino cuisine in New York City.

Talde and Cohen used their experience and exposure on Top Chef to create a brand for themselves and opened their own restaurants. Both have also ventured beyond Manhattan and Brooklyn and crossed the Hudson River to open restaurants in Jersey City, Talde with his eponymous restaurant near Grove Street and Cohen with Piggyback Bar JC on Hudson Street, by the Harborside and overlooking the gorgeous Manhattan skyline.

Andino also parlayed his reality TV fame and opened Flip Sigi in the West Village and followed it up by opening a branch in the Upper East Side last year.

A few blocks down from Andino’s Filipino taqueria is Neil Syham’s Lumpia Shack Snackbar on Greenwich Ave. which he opened years after selling lumpia at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. He was also in food news recently when New York Times wrote about his new venture in Flushing called Ok Lah, a partnership with fellow Smorgasburg chef Carson Yiu. The dishes change daily, it could be chicken inasal and Hainanese chicken today and sinigang and a version of the Indonesian rendang the following day.

That there is way more to Filipino cuisine than just lumpia and adobo or Filipino Cuisine 101 is another thing that the New York Times article pointed out. These are just the basic introduction to Filipino food and both just barely scratched the surface.

Now that we have the attention, it’s time to bring out more from the arsenal. Sinigang, sisig, paksiw, pinakbet, binagoongan, ginataan, kare-kare, nilaga, sutokil, humba. Are you hungry yet? Let’s go back to the adobo and if we look at it closely, we’d realize that there’s a thousand and one variations of cooking it depending on where one is from. The list is endless.

Regional Filipino is where it is at, and it is something that the Filipino Food Movement knows and understands. That is why early this year, chefs from the West Coast (and one from NYC) gathered together to serve regional Filipino dishes at the James Beard House.

Chefs from Portland (Carlo Lamagna of Magna), Seattle (Melissa Miranda of Musang), San Francisco (Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage), Philadelphia (Lou Boquila of Perla) and New York (Miguel Trinidad of Maharlika/Jeepney) got together to push heretofore unknown and unheard of Filipino dishes such as the Ilocano dinardaraan (dinuguan or blood stew) which many Filipino parents in America would feed their American-born children and call the dish “chocolate meat”.

“Not many people know how many different cultures are present in the country,” shared Joanne Boston, Co-Director and founding member of the Filipino Food Movement. “Carlo and Francis mentioned it would be awesome to have Regional flavors featured since the Philippines is so diverse.”

A genuine Ilocano, Lamagna said he remembers growing up in Detroit where his dad and uncles and aunts would prepare feasts in his uncle’s garage.

“They would slaughter a goat and prepare all the dishes with it and it would be one amazing party,” he said, adding that he loves to cook and prepare goat dishes such as kaldereta, kilawin and papaitan.

Boston said that the timing is perfect.

“Now is the time to educate. Let’s tell them why our food has so many faces. Let’s tell them about how some of our native dishes were transformed into the dishes we see today,” she said. “Our food isn’t the same as how it was 100 years, 200 years, 300 years ago. There is a natural evolution with time.”

The Road to the James Beard Awards

Philippine-born Tom Cunanan co-owns Bad Saint with Genevieve Villamora and Nick Pimentel.

In a Washington City Paper interview, Cunanan said that he was inspired by Maharlika and Jeepney which he visited in 2013 while attending a wedding in New York. Upon his return to DC, he told Villamora that he wanted to open a Filipino restaurant in the nation’s capital.

“I saw my generation of Filipinos doing something really cool in these really rad spaces,” he said.

The 24-seater, no-reservation restaurant opened in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC two years later, on September 2015, after a successful crowd-funding campaign via Kickstarter. Bon Appetit declared the restaurant as the number two restaurant on its annual America’s Best New Restaurants list for 2016.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Margie Manzke spent her early years working in her parents’ restaurant. Inspired by their hard work and perseverance, Margarita decided at a young age to follow in their footsteps and enter the culinary world, studying culinary arts, specifically pastry, at Le Cordon Bleu in London. She also enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America in New York, where she received an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts.

Chef Margie moved to Los Angeles where she worked in some of the city’s best restaurants, including the original Spago on Sunset Boulevard and Patina on Melrose. It was at Patina that she met her future husband, Walter.

In 2001, Margarita left Patina to work with Josiah Citrin at his Michelin two-star restaurant, Melisse, where she quickly rose to the position of Sous Chef.

In search of a new challenge, Margarita and Walter

The Manzkes moved to Carmel to open a series of successful restaurants including Bouchee, Cantinetta Luca and L’Auberge Carmel. In 2007, Margarita returned to Los Angeles with Walter to reopen Bastide Restaurant, where she served as Pastry Chef. From there, she worked with the team at Church & State before finally returning to the kitchen and the pastry department at Bottega Louie.

In the summer of 2012, along with her sister and husband Walter, she opened Wildflour bakery and café in Bonifacio Global City, a recently reinvigorated section of Manila. Since opening, the trio has received rave reviews for the classic cuisine and whimsical offerings. In 2013, the Manzkes opened a second location of Wildlfour in Manila.

Last year, they opened Sari Sari Store in downtown Los Angeles.

Margie Lorenzana-Manzke says the inspiration behind the restaurant is a simple one: “The idea was that I could cook the food that I want, the food that I grew up on, and could introduce Filipino food to other people.”

Like many, she laments that in Los Angeles Filipino food is “not known” and “not popular,” and that people “have no clue what it is.” But she thinks her rice bowls are a great place to start: “This is just a small part of Filipino cuisine but an approachable one, and a good introduction.”



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.”