Stories

How to Transform Filipino Cuisine

What picture forms in your mind when you think of sinigang?  A big pot of soup filled with pork and seafood, radish, okra, and long beans?  Of course it’s what you’re thinking—because that is exactly what sinigang is.  We too think of sinigang as a sour and spicy soup containing meat and Filipino vegetables.  But instead of making a broth we make a veloute, instead of pork we use snow crabs, and instead of serving the dish in one big pot we present it as individual plates for the third course of a tasting menu.  This is how we are transforming Filipino Cuisine—by keeping the heart, traditions, and flavors of the dish then modernizing the techniques and choosing seasonal, more luxurious ingredients.

Like sinigang, many Filipino dishes are “one-pot-wonders”: unique combinations of vegetables, sauces, and meats thrown into a pot to slow cook for several hours. This technique makes it easier for busy families to prepare meals at low cost. Ingredients vary based on region, but the staples are the same—tamarind for sinigang, tomato sauce for caldereta, vinegar and soy sauce for adobo. Additionally, many of these dishes can easily be found at a Filipino potluck party where large chafing dishes filled with these stews are left out for guests to literally eat all night.  We grew to love these dishes and associate them with family, music, and lots and lots of eating.  We still want to preserve that nostalgic feeling of a vibrant Filipino family party in our dinners, but with a twist on the ambience and presentation. So what happens when you step outside the realm of the daily family dynamic? What if you have the time, energy, budget, and skills to take these dishes and push them the way classic French Coq au Vin and Italian Spaghetti alla Bolognese were pushed from one-pot-wonders to fine dining cuisine? We create a new type of party through our supper clubs and tasting menus.

Knowing that Filipino food is usually served in a big pot with all the ingredients mixed in and a large glop of rice on the side, devising the menu took much brainstorming in the beginning.  We thought, “How can we convince people to journey through a multi-course Filipino menu when most have only experienced potlucks?”  Then we decided that this is where our experience and inspiration of French and American culinary techniques must come into play. We reimagine each dish by thinking about ingredients traditionally used, then coming up with ways to highlight that ingredient in order to enhance the flavors and presentation. Similar to a movie, we use a 5-course tasting menu to carry our guests’ senses through a culinary journey—an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion of Filipino cuisine—teaching them about the ingredients, culture, and background stories behind each dish.

Our goal is to incorporate a variety of textures, introduce seasonal ingredients, inspire healthier alternatives, and challenge the status quo without affecting the tradition and heart of these beloved dishes.  We’ll start a menu off with a sorbet made from tropical fruits like kalamansi or rambutan to cleanse the palate.  Then we move into small bites to get the guests excited, presenting squid-ink kwek-kwek or balut made with duck skin and potato espuma (replicating the taste and textures without using actual fertilized eggs).  Our vegetable courses will use monggo with mixed seasonal greens or vegan palabok made with enoki mushrooms as noodles.  Seafood is usually next, where we’ll present one of a million Filipino seafood dishes: snapper sinigang with tamarind veloute, scallop kinilaw with coconut vinegar, ginataang alimasag using soft-shell crabs.  Our final savory course tends to be the most traditional, consisting of a meat-based dish minus the rice and heavy sauces, plus the seasonal ingredients—dinuguan paella with pork belly and sauteed ramps, kare-kare with oxtail roulade and eggplant two ways.  An array of Filipino desserts with classic flavor combinations concludes the dinner, such as champorado with banana mousse and toasted hazelnut or cassava cake with vanilla poached apples and candied pecans.  At the conclusion of our supper club, guests leave with the notion that traditional cuisine can be given a facelift without striping off its heart and soul.  

Is Filipino food ready for this change?  ABSOLUTELY!  For those who believe Filipino food is “not Filipino food unless it is served in the traditional way,” we challenge you to step outside the box and join this journey with us.  At the end of the day, no matter how Filipino food is presented, it is and will always be made with love and represent the importance of family, memories, and celebrating life.