Kain Na, Cali!: Bringing Filipino cuisine on the forefront

Kain Na, Cali!: Bringing Filipino cuisine on the forefront

Fil-Am chefs celebrates Pinoy food across California

IN the article Crazy Food Trends for 2015 You Won’t Believe (by Perri O. Blumberg, Dec. 30, 2014; SELF Magazine), leading global food consulting firm The Sterling-Rice Group (SRG) identified Filipino cuisine as “advanced Asian,” and one of the emerging trends this year.

“…As our collective palates become more adventurous, expect 2015 to usher in a flurry of exciting and hitherto under-explored Asian flavors. In this incarnation of Asian 2.0, your tongue will be tantalized by ‘unapologetic spice, heat, funkiness and flavor, more fat and more unusual ingredients,’” says Kara Nielsen (SRG’s Culinary Director). “As we say goodbye to trios of tame, sweet and teriyaki-glazed, in store are ‘…dishes and flavors from Northern Thailand, more exploration of Japanese and Korean cuisine, and deeper dives into Southeast Asian.’ Ditto for Filipino food, which includes delicacies like arroz caldo, a thick chicken rice porridge.”

There is no doubt that Filipino cuisine is one of the best in the world. Its simple approach to ingredients can bring out all complexities in taste. However, we are yet to see the full rise of Filipino food in the mainstream dining scene. With the rich history of Filipinos in the United States, it is a surprise why it hasn’t taken off like other ethnic cuisines.

This is why Chef AC Boral of Filipino Kitchen and Chef Yana Gilbuena of The SALO Project conceptualized Kain Na, Cali!—a celebration of Filipino cuisine across the state of California, with 15 pop-up meals from San Francisco to San Diego for the whole month of March.

Aside from Boral and Gilbuena, other participating chefs include Chef Jessette Kalsi of Nouveau Filipino in Napa Valley, Chef Chad Valencia of LASA in Los Angeles, Chef Eric Pascual of Eats by E and The Lumpia Company. A special mention goes out to Chef Rob Menor too, who is from Stockton, and has helped Filipino Kitchen with Kain Na, Cali.

“Kain Na, Cali! food options will range the entire gamut from delicious food-inspired dishes from Chef Eric via The Lumpia Company, a reimagined brunch menu at RICE&SHINE, utensil-free dining (kamayan) at all of Chef Yana’s SALO’s and even high-end French style for Chef Jessette’s Nouveau Filipino in wine country,” said The Filipino Food Movement (FFM) Founder PJ Quesada of Ramar Foods.

Founded in 2013, FFM’s ultimate goal is to bring Filipino food to the forefront by creating a community and network that will work together.

“We met Yana, AC and the other chefs because the FFM were scouting for our big event Savor Filipino in San Francisco which was held during Labor Day weekend. We all knew our Filipino chefs had so much talent, so why not bring them together to participate?,” said Joanne Boston, FFM Vice President. “So we brought over chefs from NYC, Seattle, Chicago, and even the Philippines to be part of the event. Even after the event ended, the chefs kept in touch and I introduced AC to Sarahlynn and Natalia when he told me he was moving there.”

Boston also added that FFM’s Instagram account had close to 10,000 followers in just 10 months, that with such a following, it is a surprise that Filipino isn’t “mainstream.”

Boral thinks it’s because the older generation of Filipinos were not just ready to let go and bring the cuisine to “the average American diner”.

“…We kept it mostly within our households and community/family. My family came to the States for a better life, for me to not just be Filipino but Filipino-American – emphasis on the American,” he said and added, “Also, the mentality of our people is shifting from a contentious one to a collaborative one. There’s a strong sense of respect and camaraderie amongst my peers to grow together and raise up toward a broader goal.”

The chefs/Pop-ups

Chef AC Boral. Based in San Diego, Boral is part of Filipino Kitchen with blogger/writer Sarahlynn Pablo and photographer Natalia Roxas. He has been part of RICE&SHINE brunch pop-ups.

His food. “Guests can expect a fun menu reframing Filipino ingredients and flavors within an American brunch setting. It’s a unique concept that I think respresents me as a chef and a person very well.”

On embracing the Filipino cuisine. “I think, especially in the past six months or so, the public at large is embracing Filipino food more because the newer generation of Filipinos/Fil-Ams are embracing it themselves. It’s exciting to see the energy of my peers bring our food to a wider audience.”

(For more on Chef AC Boral: http://filipino.kitchen)

Chef Yana Gilbuena. Born in Iloilo, Chef Yana Gilbuena moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20 and seven years later, found her passion in cooking in New York. A self-taught chef, Gilbuena started The SALO Project, a traveling pop-up feast gathering adventurous diners who dare expore the regions of the Philippines through food beyond adobo and lumpia.

Her food. Five-course traditional family-style dinner full of extraordinary flavors composed from local and seasonal ingredients, served on banana leaves and eaten old school, sans utensils (kamayan), and unprecedented opportunity to explore Filipino cuisine in a unique atmosphere.

(For more information on The SALO series: www.facebook/saloseries).

Chef Jessette Kalsi. Owner of Jessette’s Kitchen in Napa, Kalsi has worked in some of the finest restaurants in Northern California – from Michael Mina’s RN74 to Walnut Creek’s Va De Vi, and Napa’s very own The Pear.

Her food. “My Nouveau Filipino Deux will feature my take on classic Filipino cuisine by marrying old tastes/flavors with French style, plating, and portions. Unlike my last pop-up, which simply and artfully united Filipino and French cooking, my new pop-up will almost exclusively feature the cuisine of Bicol, the region of the Philippines where my mother grew up.”

On embracing the Filipino cuisine. “Some people have never tried Filipino cuisine because it is not readily available. At my last Pop-Up at the Black Rock Inn in St. Helena, several “foodies” who intrigued by the idea of uniting Filipino and French cuisines embraced the concept so much they asked me to write a cookbook. I believe that if the FFM is moved to areas unfamiliar with Filipino food, with the cuisine marketed to high-end, discriminating tastes, it will be embraced!”

(For more on Chef Jessette Kalsi: www.jessetteskitchen.biz.)

LASA. Second generation Filipino-American brothers Chase and Chad Valencia started organizing pop-up events in 2013 twice a month. Initially, their suppers were intimate, for about 15 guests, held in backyards. Soon their pop-up events grew.

Their food. Fundamental Filipino cooking techniques using seasonal, farmer market ingredients native to Southern California. “LASA means flavor, taste and even saying it in how many ways, it’s so approachable and accessible. If you’re a Westerner, it’s easy to say,” Chase says. “It’s such a great representation of what we’re trying to do to bring these flavors and this taste out.”

On embracing the Filipino cuisine. “I want to see more people of our generation cooking our food and other people talking about Filipino food as much as they’re talking about Thai or Vietnamese,” Chase shares, in an interview with Asian Journal-Southern California edition last year. “We have to get out of that stigma in our community that ‘my grandma cooks it the best.’”

“That’s one of the reasons why Filipino food doesn’t exist outside of homes,” Chad chimes in.

(For more information on LASA: http://lasarestaurant.com)

Chef Eric Pascual. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Pascual spent a good amount of his childhood in Hawai’i. Cooking began at an early age, introduced by his grandfather and parents. What started as a responsibility turned into a curiosity that moved on to be a hobby, and now, his passion. He now regularly hosts his pop-up meals Eats by E through Feastly and co-owns The Lumpia Company.

(For more information on Chef Eric Pascual and The Lumpia Company: https://squareup.com/market/thelumpiacompany).

*Special thanks to Sarahlynn Pablo and Natalia Roxas of the Filipino Kitchen. 

(SF March 20, 2015 SF Magazine pg.2)

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