Chef Charleen wins Chopped 

Chef Charleen wins Chopped 

Some really exciting news for 2017 for our community! Sharing the success of Charleen Caabay – a chef based in Oakland, California and the owner of the Kainbigan restaurant – who won the “New Year’s Bash” episode of the reality-based cooking television game show “Chopped” on the Food Network.

Chef Charleen is the first Filipino-American female chef to win the Food Network’s “Chopped.” She also happens to be my blood-related cousin as my grandmother and her grandfather are siblings.

As Michelle Caabay wrote:

It was the first time that “Chopped” hosted a New Year’s party and the four chef competitors got to prepare a festive three-course meal with traditional and extravagant holiday ingredients. The show is divided into three rounds: each chef is given a basket of several unrelated ingredients and the prepared dish must contain all of them.

At the end of each round, the panel of rotating culinary judges decides which chef gets “chopped” based upon presentation, taste and creativity.  The featured judges for this episode were: Alex Guarnaschelli, Aarón Sánchez and Scott Conant. The comforting flavors of Filipino cuisine and Chef Charleen’s heritage served as an inspiration throughout the competition.

Chef Charleen proclaimed, “We’re gonna celebrate, We’re gonna cook good food, and we’re gonna party!” She got the celebration started with an appetizer dish of Crab Torta with Collard Green Laing and Champagne Butter Sauce.

Alex Guarnaschelli commented, “Your sensibility really comes through and I respect that.”

Chef Charleen added her own twist on laing, by making it with collard greens; it is typically stewed taro leaves in coconut milk. Scott Conant really loved the richness from the coconut milk. She also used the blini as a binder and mixed it with the king crab legs, and made it all into a into torta, a Spanish-inspired Filipino omelet dish that she loved to eat while growing up.  Aarón Sánchez appreciated the big chunks of crab that were welcoming and brought a sense of comfort when he ate the torta.

Moving into the second round, Chef Charleen shined through with her special entrée dish of Martini Steamed Lobster Tail with Barbecue Strip Loin and Curried Black-Eyed Peas. She wanted to create a party on the plate for the New Year’s theme, and that she did! Chef Charleen always finds a way to bring people together through the food that she makes. She said, “In my culture, barbecue stick is popular, so my first instinct is to marinate it with all the yummy seasonings.”

Growing up in a Filipino household, she was always surrounded by amazing food shared with family and friends. It’s no wonder she ended up opening her own Filipino comfort food restaurant, it’s like a family party every day!

Aarón Sánchez commented to the other judges, “Charleen’s going to show us a window into Filipino cuisine, she’s doing it her way, I really appreciate that!” Then Alex Guarnaschelli chimed in by complimenting Chef Charleen, “There’s some really great cooking here!” I love the meat, it’s deee-licious, when I pull the lobster out of the shell and I get the marinade on it, it’s delicious!”  Then Scott Conant said it simply, “It’s good eating!”

Chef Charleen topped the party off with a Funnel Cake with Pomegranate Grape Compote.  The dessert round can be a challenge at times, and kept us at the edge of our seat, but she made it! Chef Charleen commented, “I looked at Matt’s plate and see this fluffy white stuff… Oh-Oh! He used some kind of technique that I don’t even know…” She transformed the featured ingredients into a playful twist on a festive holiday funnel cake with a last-minute sprinkle of toasted coconut, but it was a tad too sweet and needed more balance.

Scott Conant said, “Your instincts are great, but those are the nuances that you learn as time goes on.” Chef Charleen’s own recipe of true passion for food, pride in her Filipino heritage, determination and creativity won the judges over!

Thanks Michelle for writing this article and a special thanks to shar g. photography for Chef Charleen’s photos. Congrats Pinsan! The community rejoices in your success and accomplishment. Watch out for Chef Charleen in 2017!


Giselle “G” Töngi is the host and producer of Kababayan Today, a daily talk show that features relevant topics for Filipino’s living in America. Her aim is to bridge not only the cultural gap between America & the Philippines but to help with the generational gap between our own people. She is married with two children and is based in Southern California and makes frequent trips in the Pacific Rim to Hawaii and Manila to feature fellow kababayans who are empowering the FilAm community.

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