A Filipino Gastronomic Tour of Brooklyn

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When Purple Yam opened in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn back in 2009, it became a dining destination for many Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who live outside the borough. Some prefer to drive while others take the leisurely route via the Q train going to Coney Island.

One by one, Filipino restaurants followed suit and less than decade later, we have a strong list of places in Brooklyn where foodies and admirers of Filipino cuisine could gather and share a steaming pot of chicken adobo while drinking their San Miguel Beer.

Some of them – like Tama in Bed-Stuy and Ibis Eats in Crown Heights – are targeting their respective neighborhoods in order to become the go-to spot among its residents. Tama opened a year ago along Lewis Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area, still a predominantly lower-income neighborhood on the verge of imminent gentrification.

“We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve taken to the neighborhood and the neighborhood has taken to us. That was our goal to begin with – to have a community-based Filipino restaurant,” one of the owners, Miguel de Leon told the Asian Journal. “We wanted to be the neighborhood Filipino spot.”

Just a little more than a mile away is Swell Dive, a non-traditional taqueria serving Filipino flavors. Owned by the husband and wife team Dennis Mendoza and Autumn Stanford (they also own Brooklyn Kolache Co.) Swell Dive opened in 2016 and they have been serving chicken adobo, spam and sisig tacos, among others since.

The idea of opening a Filipino Tex-Mex spot has been at the back of his mind since opening Brooklyn Kolache back in 2012 and they were just waiting for the right time. The couple got inspiration from their own backgrounds, Stanford traces hers to Texas while Mendoza’s roots are from the Philippines.

Ibis Eats on the other hand started off as a café which Bjorn dela Cruz opened with a Trinidadian partner five years before he and his siblings started Manila Social Club.

They’re offering some traditional, authentic-style Filipino food, and they’re going this direction because of the neighborhood.

“They don’t know about Filipino cuisine [here] so when I opened in Williamsburg for Manila Social Club, we had avant-garde, cutting edge Filipino food. Here now in Crown Heights, it is a great place because it’s a blank space where I can show them the real strengths of our tradition,” dela Cruz shared.

They are also exploring Filipino food as it pertains to the Galleon Trade, Spanish influence and incorporating Trinidadian and Caribbean influence.

“There are some dishes – when we were making the menu, like laing – and my partner would go, ‘This is like my grandma’s dish and it’s called callaloo!’” he added.  “For a staff meal once, I made some afritada and he asked me how I learned to make it because he never learned how to make it. I told him it’s as Filipino as it gets.”

Tama x Purple Yam

For two evenings last week, I had an opportunity to dine at Purple Yam with chef Romy Dorotan in the kitchen and serving us great-tasting food.

The first night was a dinner with some colleagues and Tourism Attaché Susan del Mundo as part of the Filipino Restaurant Week. The plan was take eat our dinner first at Tama and drive to Purple Yam for dessert.

We ate our way through Tama’s menu and found amazing and bold flavors in their dishes. My favorite remains to be the smoked mackerel over spicy chocolate rice (it’s like champorado but different). The sisig burger and sisig fried rice were both delightfully delicious.

Since we eat with our eyes first, we couldn’t help but be appreciative of Tama’s decision to use ube bun – it was indeed Instagram-friendly. Notable among what we tried were the Bicol Express and Lengwa (beef tongue served with smoked mushrooms).

We tried not to be so full since we knew our desserts were waiting.

At Purple Yam, we had one dessert each, which we shared with the group so we could decide which one was the best. When chef Romy arrived while we were dining, he went straight to the kitchen and next thing we knew, he was sending out some appetizers. How could we say no?

We had a light salad of apple and mango with mulberry vinegar from Bukidnon, followed by kinagang, a Bicolano dish similar to tamales, made with cassava and coconut and served with squid. Then came the jackfruit dish with four kinds of toasted cheese.

Then, dessert happened.

Chef Romy makes his own ice cream and tonight, we had the best time eating some of his rather uncanny concoctions. Ever heard of sineguelas ice cream? How about champoy ice cream? We had both and we craved for more.

The sineguelas (ciruela in Spanish) ice cream brought me back to those childhood summers in the province where we would feast on sineguelas picked straight from the tree with a sarukang, a long pole of light bamboo. Romy said he bought the frozen ciruelas from a neighborhood store.  He served it with suman diket (sticky rice).

Then came a parade – a plate of mango ice cream served over a mango tart, gojiberry ice cream with longan, calamansi tart served with a scoop of guava sorbet a d my personal favorite, the ube tikoy served with champoy ice cream.

Chef Romy and Amy Besa should open a place that only serves desserts, or maybe an ice cream shop.

Ube Kitchen & Lumpia Shack @ Smorgasburg

NYC foodies look forward to the month of April because this is when Smorgasburg, the largest weekly open-air food market in the country opens.

Now a Brooklyn institution, Smorgasburg gathers about a hundred of the city’s main food purveyors and local vendors and brings them to East River State Park in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays. Between 20,000 to 30,000 people make the trip to Brooklyn every weekend to try the multiple options that the vendors have to offer.

Chef Neil Syham and his Lumpia Shack, a non-traditional lumpia stand, have been fixtures at Smorgasburg since 2012. Two years later, they opened their brick and mortar store in the West Village, part of chef Neil’s dream to create a fast casual, upscale Filipino eatery in NYC.

Early this year however, he announced that they are closing the restaurant down and he will be focusing on a partnership with fellow chef Carson Yiu for their venture called OKLah in Flushing.

Ube Kitchen, one of the more famous vendors at Smorgasburg serves healthy Filipino-inspired desserts using plant-based options.

They became viral social media sensations after foodie features from Food Insider, VICE, New York Times, OZY, Gothamist, and Refinery29 with each one bringing a different way to understand the purple dragon concept.

“While one of us is a plant-based fanatic and the other a Filipino-trained chef, we wanted a way to pay homage to the Filipino culture and create a vessel to celebrate the use of plant-based ingredients in a dessert with no dairy or animal products,” Vanz Consignado told the Asian Journal. “Inspired by halo-halo, our purple dragon is filled with colors and unexpected flavors such as dehyrated pineapple and dragon fruit to have fun with plant-based cuisine at a time plant-based foods is reaching critical mass. When someone sees a purple ball in the shell of a dragon fruit, how else can you not say, “what the hell is that?” and not try a taste.”

Vanz was born and raised in the Philippines and graduated culinary arts from De La Salle – College of Saint Benild. He later went on to work at the 5-star Gran Hotel La Florida in Barcelona, Spain and at the Delano botique hotel in South Beach, Miami. His partner Nick is from Rochester, NY, a business administration graduate with wide-range of experience at food banks, clinical research, and freelance web design that eventually led him into the digital publishing world for OZY.com before taking his marketing talents to Ube Kitchen.

They knew as early as the summer of 2016 that they would create a dessert together and invested to not just experimenting but conceptualizing the business model and taking the time to browse how an outdoor tent operates. They also felt there was enough of the rise of ube and Filipino flavors and plant-based options in New York to propose a Filipino-inspired dessert to an outdoor market that thrived on the latest and unique dishes.

They saw an opportunity and ran away with it. Now, they are offering more than just the halo-halo served on dragon fruit.

Ube Kitchen serves the “rainbow of colors in plants and unafraid to experiment in our Ube Lab testing with plant-based dishes for chia pudding, pizza, mac-n-cheese, cupcakes, musubi, homemade seitan, hot chocolate, matcha drinks, and everything you can imagine plant-based at a ‘kamayan’ feast”.

And after munching and snacking at Smorgasburg, one can make the little-over-a-mile walk to Mountain Province and enjoy their selection of ethically-sourced, fair trade coffee beans sourced exclusively from the Philippines through Kalsada Coffee, a roaster that works with small independent coffee farmers in the Philippines.

And speaking of ube, their ube latte is sublime and I can trek all the way to East Williamsburg just to have a cup or two. While at it, I’d be having their Filipino pastries – cassava cake and ube ensaymada – as well, thank you very much.

Owner Ray Luna opened Mountain Province in 2013 with his lola, the matriarch of his family, as the main inspiration.

He told Gothamist then, “My grandmother was able to provide and send six kids to school by baking cakes for the neighborhood. Soon after, my mom and my aunt followed in her footsteps in one form or another. So in a way, our tiny shop is a celebration of her legacy and the legacy of my family.”

Celebrating the rich flavors of the Philippines at Filipino Restaurant Week 2018

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Filipino Restaurant Week (#FRW2018), that annual, much-awaited foodie event among fans of Filipino cuisine, has grown so much after its inception back in 2015 when 13 Filipino restaurants across the boroughs of New York as well as Jersey City offered fixed priced lunches and dinners. This was in reaction to the then emerging popularity of Filipino cuisine, particularly in New York City.

This time, 24 restaurants and pop-ups in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are participating and will be providing special prix fixe menus of delectable Filipino cuisine from 14 to 26 May. Lunches are at $25 and dinners are priced at $35. Other a la carte menu items are also available in these restaurants during the promotional period.

The eclectic mix of participating restaurants and cafes offers a wide spectrum of Filipino food to make sure that there is something for every diner out there. There are traditional restaurants that offer home-cooked goodness and there are coffee shops like Mountain Province and Kabisera Kape that offer light fare and truly Filipino coffee and tea.

This year, we have a number of first-time participants, including Perla in Philadelphia, Flip Sigi, Swell Dive, Ibis Eats, Tama and Mighty Bowl.

Chef Jordan Andino of Flip Sigi shared his excitement about being a part of this group and seeing the same restaurants he visited in the past few years made him a little nostalgic.

“I feel honored to be a part of this and it is cool to see the same restaurants that I’ve visited in the past 8, 9 years that I’ve based my life on doing so well and to be a part of that is a real honor,” he shared. “We are a Filipino taqueria, meaning we serve Filipino food using Mexican vessels like sandwiches, tacos and burritos with a little bit of Filipino love sprinkled on top. It is by no means traditional and I don’t try to pretend and I tell our guests this is my take on Filipino cuisine.”

His restaurant Flip Sigi opened its second location last year in the Upper East Side in addition to its Greenwich Village home. He is also the current featured chef at the Chefs Club Counter in Soho.

Another first-timer is Bjorn dela Cruz of Manila Social Club. He now runs Ibis Eats in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“I am excited for Filipino Restaurant Week to be able to open up Filipino food in the Crown Heights area. What should we be doing to mainstream the food – we have to be very honest with ourselves, no shortcuts, no half-measures,” dela Cruz said. “Filipino food is absolutely amazing. It is so vibrant and delicious. It is a very dynamic cuisine and we can’t get stuck on just one thing or one dish.”

Dela Cruz is famous for his creation, the ubiquitous $100 golden ube donut that was the toast of the social media world a couple of years ago. The donut was made out of ube, covered with 24-karat gold leaf and piped with Cristal gelee and ube mousse and its icing laced with more Cristal champagne.

“I love ube and I made it my mission in 2016 to make ube a thing. It’s that one ingredient that opens up to other Filipino cooking styles and dishes,” Dela Cruz said.

One of the pioneers of the Filipino Restaurant Week project is Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney and Maharlika, along with Purple Yam and Kuma Inn.

“It is exciting to see how it has evolved,” Ponseca told us, excitedly adding that she is working on opening a third restaurant – this time in Williamsburg.

“We’re calling it Tita Baby’s and it is going to be a panciteria,” she teased. “It is an homage to all the women in our lives that took care of us, cooked for us and fed us.”

If plans don’t miscarry, the place will open next month. She is also coming out with a cookbook under Artisan Press, which is coming out this November.

Anton Dayrit, executive chef of Mighty Bowl restaurants, talked about their restaurant which now has three locations in the city – MacDougal in the Greenwich Village, Midtown East and a third one in the Upper East Side (on 77th and Lexington).

“It’s spicy and really good hang-over food,” he said, describing their offerings. Among their more popular bowls is the Manila Bowl and for FRW, they are offering Sisig Bowl as well.

Miguel de Leon, one of the owners of Tama, a small neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn talked about their place being mostly a take-home spot.

“We want to invite our flavors, our history into your homes,” he said. “We look back at our history in order for us to progress and that’s how we at Tama flavor our food with, we look back and respect the Spanish flavors, Mexican flavors from the Galleon Trade to the American Occupation and bring them to you in a package that’s delicious, affordable and exciting.”

Tama opened in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn a year ago.

Just recently, they became viral on social media with their “sisig burger” creation, using homemade ube bun, slathered in chili-garlic hot sauce and chili aioli, then topped with a fried egg, local greens and a patty made of sisig.

This year, the Philippine Consulate General in New York partnered with the Philippine Department of Tourism New York, Philippine Airlines, and Tanduay Asian Rum for FRW 2018.

Speaking at the launch, Deputy Consul General Kerwin Tate emphasized that Filipinos’ love for food extends to their humanity – the desire to share, and the wisdom to always make sure to leave something for those who will need it.

Tourism Attache Susan Del Mundo shared with the audience the various gastronomic tours available in the Philippines. The Department of Tourism is working on exciting new farm to table programs in partnership with organic farms and agricultural organizations.

In order to entice more participants to join, the Department of Tourism is sponsoring a social media campaign allowing diners to win terrific prizes. Lucky diners have a chance to win a round trip ticket to Manila courtesy of Philippine Airlines, three nights’ hotel accommodations, a bespoke culinary tour, Barclay Centre concert tickets courtesy of Tanduay Asian Rum and other travel items during the promotional period.

 


 

The participating restaurants of Filipino Restaurant Week 2018 are:

NEW YORK:

FlipSigi (1752 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10128, 833-FLIPSIGI)

Grill 21 (346 E 21st St., New York, NY 10010, 212-473-5950)

Ibis Eats (663 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11238, 718-676-4150)

Jappy Afzelius Pop-Up at Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)

Jeepney (201 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-533-4221)

Kabisera Kape (151 Allen St., New York, NY 10002; 929-920-8250)

Kuma Inn (113 Ludlow St., New York, NY 10002, 212-353-8866)

Maharlika (111 1st Ave., New York 10003, 646-392-7880)

Mighty Bowl  (817 2nd Ave, New  York, NY 10017, 646-649-5603)

Mountain Province (9 Meserole St., Brooklyn, NY 11206, 718-387-7030)

Sisig City Food Truck (www.sisigcity.com; http://www.facebook.com/SisigCity)

Philam Kusina (556 Tompkins Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305, 718-727-3663)

Purple Yam (1314 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, NY 11226, 718-940-8188)

Swell Dive (1013 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205, 917-652-4779)

Tama (147 Lewis Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11221, 347-533-4750)

Talde (369 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215, 718-205-7299)

Tito Rad’s Grill & Restaurant (49-10 Queens Blvd., Woodside, NY, 11377, 718-205-7299)

Ugly Kitchen (103 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003, 212-777-6677)

NEW JERSEY

La Parilla de Manilla (1159 St. Georges Ave., Colonia, NJ 07067, 732-510-7033)

Max’s (687 Newark Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-798-2700)

Noodle Fan (2814 JFK Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07306, 201-626-4443)

Pinoy Filipino Restaurant (18 Division St., Somerville, NJ 08876, 908-450-9878)

Talde (8 Erie St., Jersey City, NJ 07302, 201-630-0077)

PENNSYLVANIA

Perla (1525 S 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147, 267-273-0008)

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.”