The Filipino American chef shares her experience and frustrations with the restaurant industry.
Since 1998, I’ve been on this mission to uncover who I am and to unlock doors to culture, food, flavors, recipes, traditions, languages, religion … I mean, it’s so diverse. The Philippines is a little bit like a maze. Once you think you’ve got it figured out, there’s another hallway to walk through, another door to open, so it’s really hard to nail down. And the more you step away from it, you begin to see just how epic the cuisine is.
I almost feel like I’m an Indiana Jones for Filipino cuisine. Going back to the Philippines, I’ve hitchhiked, I’ve motorcycled, I’ve donned a hijab and gone to the autonomous region of Muslim Philippines.
I often find when you create opportunities to share, then people become that much more warm and disarmed, and those measures to create protection, those barriers of hierarchy, really become level. With my mission, sometimes it’s one person at a time, and I’m OK with that. If these restaurants are making a difference, we’ve done a good thing.
Everyone loves food, everyone loves to eat. That’s why our restaurant has been able to invite more and more diverse people to enjoy my culture. Because the restaurant isn’t just about food. When you walk in, you’re immersed into our world, and I love that. Now, in my adulthood, I don’t have to water myself down. I can say, you’re welcome to the party, but it’s my party. And I want you to feel welcome and I want you to feel comfortable, but I want you to know that these are the flavors and this is all that it’s about, and if you don’t like it, I’m OK with that, too.
A food that I used to be embarrassed about ― whether it was balut or eating with my hands or adopting euphemisms like “chocolate stew” in order to entice people to eat a blood stew ― I don’t have to do anymore. And sometimes I even get asked to showcase how to eat balut. It’s been very rewarding.
Invariably, food is so unifying that you can’t help but have a good time, you can’t help but smile, you can’t help but make a good friend. And I often find that in the restaurant, on any given day, it’s just so diverse, so awesome, and people are often talking to each other from table to table or at the bar. It’s pretty cool. That’s how I can speak from my experience.