“It is a Filipino taqueria and we’re fast casual. We’re definitely not trying at all to be traditional Filipino. In fact, Filipino purists would hate this place. I am not trying to change the world,” Chef Jordan Andino told the Asian Journal a couple of days after officially opening 2nd City, the newest foodie destination in Greenwich Village.
“What I’m trying to do is gently introduce accessible Filipino food to the American masses, in a vessel that they are all familiar with,” he said.
By vessel, he means the current trend that’s all the rage in major foodie cities across the United States today, the poke bowl. Then, there’s the pork bun, burrito and the taco.
What he and his team did for 2nd City is to infuse his Filipino heritage, if you will, into these vessels.
Take the burrito for example. Chef Jordan’s Adobo-Rito is soy-braised chicken adobo with shredded romaine lettuce and kimchi fried rice. His fish tacos with bok choy and bird’s eye chili salsa use a reduced sinigang sauce which they call tamarind slurry. If you’re Filipino, you will notice it for sure.
For their bowl, the restaurant uses a mix of quinoa, mango, avocado, tomato, scallion, your choice of protein and calamansi vinaigrette. During the weekends, they offer Plan B-Rito, with longganisa, egg, cheese, ham, hash browns, bacon and salsa.
These are burritos, tacos and bowls but with bold and strong Filipino flavors.
As for the name, Chef Jordan offers three reasons – originally, it was supposed to be called Cebu City – the second largest city in the Philippines – but they realized some people will have different ways of pronouncing it; one of his partners is from the second city in the U.S. , which is Chicago; and lastly, they’re going to the secondary markets – instead of Denver, Boulder; instead of Chicago, Ann Arbor; instead of Houston, Austin.
The Rise of Filipino Cuisine in NYC
“It’s the next thing coming,” Chef Jordan said, echoing what Dale Talde told me after he participated in the Bravo reality show Top Chef years ago. Television host and chef Andrew Zimmern said that as well.
“I noticed that in the past ten years, people had Chinese in an American way, then Japanese and Korean. Now, they’re mixing it up – Japanese tacos, Korean burritos. Filipino dishes blend well with quick, easy food that is cheap and high flavor,” he explained. “That’s why Lumpia Shack made it. Filipino food can also be served this way.”
The 27-year-old restaurateur believes that the turn is happening and that the wheels are turning.
“In five to ten years, I can guarantee that Filipino food will be as popular as Korean tacos and sushi,” he said.
The first thing you’d notice upon entering 2nd City is the huge mural occupying the entire wall on the left side of the restaurant. It’s a labor of love and a gift from the chef’s mom, actress and model Joanna Bacalso, who collaborated with her brother, Sonny who is a graffiti artist. It’s a fulfillment of a dream Chef Jordan had when he was a kid when he said that his mom and uncle would come and paint something when he opened his restaurant.
The mural is an homage to chef Jordan and his culture – from the jeepney to the carabao to the Filipino flag. It has its Filipino elements, the stars and the sun, the ‘I Eat Rice’ phrase, which it turns out, was a screen name he once used on AOL instant messenger back in the day, his birthday is somewhere there, too.
There’s also a neon signage of a fork and a knife – which also happens to be his Twitter account and tattooed on his arms, there are skateboards and the on the jeepney’s front, it says Batangas and Cebu, the hometown of his dad and mom, respectively.
The restaurant is Jordan Andino personified.
“Did I design it? Yes, a hundred percent. Is it me in a restaurant? Yes, this is my personality – from the skateboards, fork and knife and dope ass music with fun vibes and chill,” he remarked.
And when he chills, he cooks.
His favorite traditional Filipino dishes to cook and eat – “Hands down,” he said, “Champorado, sinigang, adobo and turbo chicken. I can eat these whole day. My Lola’s lumpia is really good too, like her pancit, and she also makes this kingfish dish.”
“I love to eat champorado for breakfast, I tried to make it on Chopped but I wasn’t successful,” he said laughing.
“I used to model,” he told us, almost whispering. Maybe he didn’t want to get teased by his partners and a couple of servers who were near us then. “I can cook and I happen to film well and I am full of energy so TV people thought it was natural to put me on camera.”
One of his friends submitted his resume and to the production of Chopped, a reality cooking show on The Food Network. He didn’t think about it at all, then two weeks later, he received the call.
That opened the proverbial doors for him and his foray into the world of reality television happened.
Beat Bobby Flay followed, then numerous cooking show episodes – he has done 18 of them so far, including cooking for the Kardashians (Kourtney and Khloe Take the Hamptons).
“All of that didn’t really help my skill but it helped me deal with pressure more. What those stints did verified what I did,” he said. “It’s more pressure cooking for a crazy chef who will throw a knife or a pot at you than it is for a cooking show, it is high pressure because you don’t want to look shitty in front of your friends,” he added.
Chef Jordan was born in Toronto and their family moved to Manhattan Beach, California when he was nine. He started cooking around this time and because his dad, Richard Andino was a chef, he would hang out in his kitchen during summer and winter breaks.
“I started swatting flies, peeling shrimp, take out the garbage, sweep and mop the floor. I was this little hyper kid, always restless. I didn’t even need coffee,” he recalled.
And he did that up to the age of 17.
“By the time I was 14, 15, I have worked more hours than any of my cooks. I have been doing this now for 13 years, so it is like second nature to me,” he added.
In 2006, he went to upstate New York to study at the Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.
After earning his degree, Jordan went on to work with various chefs in order to earn his stripes and learn from the best.
Among his culinary idols, he lists - in order – Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, Jean Georges Vongerichten.
He staged in these famous chefs’ acclaimed restaurants: The French Laundry, Wolfgang and Jean Georges.
“I worked for all three of them and it was being in their kitchens, speaking to them and seeing them run their ship. I love and respect the love they have for cooking, the diligence and the militaristic style that they command their troops,” Chef Jordan said.
He learned that working for other people you get pushed to a brink and would make you think you know you can do a better job than this. Then, you reach a point when you’ve been doing things long enough that you want to see if you can make it.
That’s what happened to him. So he thought about opening his own restaurant.
“Owning your own business is risky. I am more broke now than I have ever been, ever,” he told us.
“I don’t work a single hour a week, not one. This is not work. Am I here every single day? Am I doing everything for the restaurant? Absolutely. But it is not work. This is my life, this is my blood and this is exactly what I want to do,” he added. “It’s so corny but I would have to say but I don’t consider what I do as work. I believe that when you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life. I hate saying clichés like that but it’s true. I love what I am doing.”
Chef Jordan is a man on a mission, and he is achieving this mission one burrito (or taco) at a time.
“I don’t know everything but I know a lot. Typically more than not, I know what I am doing. Sometimes, I step back and say ‘I may not know the best option here’ and that balances it, it’s about being humble and being cocky at the same,” he said. “I want people to understand that Filipino food isn’t scary and that it actually is, probably on top three cuisines in the world. But no one knows about it so I’m just here to give people a taste.”
And when he is done giving people a taste of Filipino cuisine, he’d be off to a greater adventure.
“What I envision is refining Filipino food to the point of Michelin star cuisine,” he said wistfully. “But that’s a different story, and for a different time.”