Daily Archives: July 9, 2008

Dale Talde on Pinoy Cuisine:‘It’s the next big thing’

by Momar Visaya/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Part of me thinks it’s [Filipino cuisine] the next big thing that’s gonna catch,” Dale Talde, one of the more famous and colorful contestants on the recently-concluded Bravo reality show Top Chef told the Asian Journal in an exclusive interview Monday, June 23.

“It is the original fusion food, you can’t get more original fusion than that, with the Spanish, Chinese, Malay and the native influences. We just need to put it out there,” he said.

Talde will now forever be known as that chef who introduced halo-halo to mainstream America via the popular show. He is proud of who he is and what his gastronomical influences are. If he had his way, he’d be putting more Filipino food to the forefront.

“I have seen people who do not have any idea what the Philippines is or where it is located. I think it is a very misunderstood culture and it’s a shame,” Talde said, and he is hoping that through food, he will be able to showcase what Filipino culture is all about.

It is Dale’s dream to open a small and cozy restaurant that will serve some of his favorite comfort food.

He considers anything that his mom makes, specially her pancit, pancit molo and batchoy as his comfort food. “I love batchoy, it’s my favorite thing. When I open my restaurant, I want to open a very simple batchoy and barbecue place, something simple and really good,” he quipped.

Dale’s mom hails from Iloilo while his dad is from Negros Occidental. The last time he visited the Philippines was 19 years ago, when his grandfather died. He has been planning to visit and he hopes he can do it in the next couple of years. He was born in Chicago and was brought back to the Philippines where he was raised for a couple of years until his parents could financially get on their feet. Growing up, he moved back with his family and was raised in a suburb just outside Chicago.

The following are excerpts of the interview:

Asian Journal: How did you get into ‘Top Chef’?

My ex-girlfriend and I are big fans of the show. She really pushed me to do it. A lot of the guys I used to work with in my old kitchen at Morimoto said I was a bit dramatic and a bit highstrung and they thought that I would be perfect for the show.

AJ: What happened after the show? What are your plans?

I went right back to work at Buddakan. I have things on the line. I would like to do some more TV work so I came up with a concept for a show with a friend of mine and we’re pitching it to some people. I have a screenplay that I am trying to write based on the restaurant experiences I’ve had. We’re doing the Top Chef tour and I am also doing a demo for the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). I want to travel and continue the learning process.

AJ: How old were you when you realized you were into cooking?

I was probably 9 or 10. I grew up in a Filipino household and my mom used to do all the cooking. She always made dinner and that’s what we ate. One night, I didn’t feel like eating what my mom cooked and I wanted pancakes with apple on it. My mom was like, ‘No you can’t have pancakes and apples because I’ve made dinner already. If you want that, then you make it.’ I was, ‘Okay, then I’ll make it.’ At that moment, I realized that it was something I liked to do.

AJ: You prepared and served halo-halo on the show.

I grew up eating halo-halo so I knew it as a Filipino dessert. My aunt owned a grocery store where you can buy prepared food in Chicago. She had an ice shaver and she used to make halo-halo and when we had block parties, she would prepare halo-halo and she’d offer it to the neighbors. I knew going into the show that I had to do a dessert and this was my one dessert.

AJ: What is your favorite Filipino dish to cook?

This may sound absolutely ridiculous but I don’t cook Filipino food as well as I know I should, and this may sound ridiculous. I can make kare-kare and it’s good. I love to make and eat kare-kare.

AJ: How about non-Filipino dish?

This is so bad. I don’t cook at home. It’s my job to cook at the restaurant and I cook 12 hours a day so when I come home, I eat. When I do cook, especially when I cook for my loved ones, I go for the simple ones: barbecue and pasta. I am getting older so I am watching what I eat. I try to eat a little healthier. Everything’s so plentiful here, compared back home. There, you only eat what’s available. Here, everything’s available to the point where there’s excess and it’s not healthy for you. If you want to eat lechong kawali four times a day, you can, but it’s not good for you.

AJ: What kind of food do you love eating?

Noodle soups like the Filipino batchoy, Vietnamese pho and ramen are my favorite comfort and hang-over food. I love that type of eating: you pop in, you get a bowl and eat. It’s fastfood but it’s really, really good.

AJ: If you had your way, how are you going to make Filipino cuisine more acceptable to the mainstream palate?

It’s not trying to make the food what it’s not. Let’s be perfectly honest. A lot of the food that we make is not pretty. You can pretty it up by putting it on a beautiful bowl but for me it’s about keeping things simple and doing them perfectly. Like batchoy. Not a lot of people know about it, even first-generation Filipino Americans.

If I can take batchoy and make it perfect and turn one of those fast-foody places into something that’s hip and cool as the place to be, and serve San Miguel beer, barbecue on a stick, siopao and batchoy.

Let’s be more creative. Pan de sal sandwiches. We eat pan de sal by itself. It’s reinventing something that Filipinos are used to eating and now will be marketed to a wider market. Let’s start with something small like this, and siopao and batchoy.

AJ: Your message to fans and viewers who supported you this season.

To my Filipino fans, salamat. I hope I did you guys proud. I hope I put someone out there, specially to us first generation Americans who do not have someone in the media that they can look at. Growing up, I didn’t have that. I did not have some to look at and say that person is like me or looks like me. I am not saying that I am a role model, I am not. Hopefully, some people saw that and felt, ‘I can relate to that dude. I can relate to his frustrations. I see what he is going through’. Thank you. We are doing it, Filipinos, we are putting it out there.

For my non-Filipino supporters: thanks for everything. Look out for me man, it’s going to be a big year. It’s going to be a good year.


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THE BOILING POINT: Louross in Hell’s Kitchen

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – There’s an old saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

FilAm Hotel Chef Louross Edralin couldn’t stand the heat of the foul-mouthed, fiery renowned Chef Gordon Ramsey. The 24-year-old Ritz Carlton Las Vegas chef Edralin, more commonly known as “Louross,” was ousted by the host for undercooking meat in one of the episodes of this season’s Fox Hell’s Kitchen reality TV show contest.
“Louross was never short on energy, he was just short… on cooking ability,” said Ramsey after ordering the 5’1″, mohawk-rocking Louross to hang up his jacket wardrobe.

He was the ninth contestant to be booted off the show.

The Bodog gaming site, however, had him as a slim favorite to win the show.

A few weeks after being expelled, Louross was back in his own kitchen at the Ritz Carlton Galileo lobby lounge, still wondering how things went wrong.

“I was representing Filipinos,” said Louross to the Asian Journal. “Filipinos can cook. You know, the show is an individual competition…but we were supposed to work as a team, as a family. I’m Filipino and you know, Filipinos work together. I tried to bring that [team concept] way to the [men’s] team. I was telling, Matty, Craig, and Jason, the people I was rooming with, to all work together.”

Louross told his team that “Ramsey is already giving us the blueprint to win,but some people were working for themselves. When you win, you’re going to win as a team. I got tired of telling them. When I got kicked off, everyone was being fake and doing their own thing.”

Ironically, most of the people that Louross mentioned were booted off the show earlier than him. Without a strong ally, Louross was left to fend for himself when it came down to decision time.

He’s not angry that he fell so soon. He’s not angry that Petrozza (that episode’s winner from the men’s team) chose him to be on Chef Ramsey’s chopping block on episode 9.

“My true colors were showing,” he said. “I’m a team-oriented guy. When it comes down to cooking, I know I’m a good chef. Unfortunately, I messed up on some of my steaks. Petrozza had to make a decision. He chose me to eliminate the threat.”

Back at the Ritz Carlton, Louross is disappointed but glad he represented well in the show.

“I held my weight down,” he said. “No one can understand what we went through. We were mentally gone.”

Going Through Hell

Louross decided to enter Hell’s Kitchen after being an avid fan. There would be days he would sit in his couch yelling at the TV, screaming at the top of his lungs whenever a chef contestant made a bonehead mistake.

” I need[ed] to be on that show,” he said. “Some people want the challenge, some want to do it for fun. I went there to win it. I was a die-hard fan.”

“There were never any Filipinos on that show,” Louross observed. He wanted to change that. He felt he had the right qualifications.

Originally from the Eagle Rock area in Los Angeles, Louross started his chef career inside his mother’s kitchen.

A caterer herself, Louross’ mom guided then 14-year-old Louross to the ways of Filipino cuisine.

Some of the things Louross learned from his mom — cooking hotdogs to perfection in making Filipino spaghetti, picking the best ingredients in making lumpia and knowing the best cooking time for pancit noodles so they don’t get soggy.

In his high school years, he ventured out for more experience. He worked at a kosher bakery store in Pasadena before landing a job at Toto’s Lechon Manok where he continued to hone his expertise in Filipino cuisine.

He had to choose between taking up nursing(as most Filipinos do) or going to culinary arts school when he hit his college years. He chose his passion and went to the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.

His parents were doubtful at first when they learned of his decision.

Louross related what his dad said: “Well, at least we have another member of the family who knows how to cook.”

After college, he strayed away from Filipino cuisine to hit the mainstream. He landed a job at the Ritz-Carlton in Las Vegas. When word got around that a Hell’s Kitchen casting crew was holding open auditions at the Mirage, Louross jumped at the opportunity.

Asked why he should be on the show, Louross blurted, “You need a Filipino up there.”

“They were cracking up. They just liked my personality,”said Louross about the production staff’s reaction.

Despite being only in nine episodes, Louross made an impression to the national TV audience. He wanted to bring Filipinos to the forefront. His quick flirtation with fellow contestant Corey and overt passion about cooking (he broke into tears when the team wouldn’t work together) gave the Mohawk rocking, “metrosexual” instant popularity.

He wanted to represent Filipinos and he thinks that he really went far in doing so.

“When do you ever see a Filipino on national TV? Now, people recognize me. When I come out of the kitchen, it’s Oh my God. We found you. We didn’t know you worked here. If you could only see the reaction from them when they see me. People are mad. They’re not happy that I got kicked out,” Louross said.

He describes Hell’s Kitchen as a “culinary boot camp.” Surprising as it may seem, he has nothing but kind words for the hot-tempered host Ramsey.

“He’s a gentleman. I learned so much from him. These are the guys that you want to work for. I have a newfound appreciation of food. I have passion for cooking but when I went on Hell’s kitchen, my Filipino eyes were stretched even more. He opened it up to another level.”

Louross will still be at the Ritz Carlton cooking and happy that he accomplished some of his dreams.

“My dream was to work with Chef Ramsey and it happened. That was a blessing,” he said. “I also came to represent for the Filipinos. I really wanted people to know that Filipinos can cook. We Filipinos are a welcoming people so why not welcome others with our food.”


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FilAm Chefs on Parade

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – From the kitchen of the White House to that of Oprah Winfrey, from the plushiest restaurants in the East Coast to the celebrity hangouts in the West Coast, Filipino American chefs are whipping up a new reputation for Pinoys — as outstanding cooks! Yes, more and more Americans are taking notice of our great chefs. No less than President George W. Bush himself admitted that the slight bulge on his midsection is a result of the “very, very good food” prepared by his FilAm executive chef.

Chef Cristeta Pasia Comerford

The FilAm community’s star chef is Cristeta Pasia Comerford, the Executive Chef in the White House. She is the first female, first Minority, and first Asian to be appointed to the esteemed position of cooking for the world’s most powerful leader, his family, staff and guests. The former executive chef,Walter Scheib III, who recommended Comerford to take over his position described his former assistant for ten years as “a great cook with an artistic eye and a calm demeanor that can handle the pressure cooker that is the White House kitchen, which feeds as many as 2,000 guests per month.”

Born in Sampaloc,Manila in 1962, Cristeta took up Food Technology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, in Quezon City before she immigrated to the US. Her first job was making salad at the Sheraton Hotel in Illinois. Cris then met and married another chef, John Comerford. After stints at the Sheraton and Hyatt Regency hotels, Cristeta, with her husband, moved to Washington. She was a chef at two Washington restaurants — Le Grande Bistro at the Westin Hotel and the Colonnade at the former ANA Hotel. For six months, she also worked as chef tournant (“revolving chef”) at Le Ciel, in Vienna, Austria before Scheib, then the executive chef at the White House, recruited her. When she took over the position of Executive Chef in the White House, Cris admitted that she went overnight from being a “nobody” to being a “somebody”. The girl who simply loved to eat Chocnut in Sampaloc now cooking up State dinners for world leaders has been affirmed by First Lady Laura Bush who said Comerford’s “passion for cooking can be tasted in every bite of her delicious creations”.

Chef Rod Aglibot

A most sought-after chef, Rod Aglibot earned his stars for creating an innovative menu of Asian dishes and blending bright flavors with an array of textures and temperatures. He was formerly the executive chef of the plush restaurants, Koi of Los Angeles,Yi Cuisine and Penthouse in Santa Monica. Rod focuses on traditional Japanese ingredients with an essence of French technique and Californian style. He combines generous hints of his Filipino ethnic roots coupled with his formal French training and experience to create one-of-a-kind dishes.

Aglibot credits his parents, Reggie( a retired chef) and Sally (” a great cook too”) as his early culinary mentors. After attending UCLA, he moved to San Francisco to pursue his culinary aspirations. He graduated from the City College of San Francisco’s Hotel and Restaurant Program. He entered the prestigious Chef’s Apprenticeship Program at the Five-Star and Five-Diamond Greenbrier Resort, in West Virginia. After the program, Rod returned to San Francisco where he honed his culinary skills at the E & O Trading Company, the French-Asian restaurant Peregrine, the romantic hideaway the Magic Flute, and ZaZen, a beachy Asian Bistro in Venice, California. Over the recent years, Rod has been featured on national television programs —on Food Network, Style Network’s It’s my Party, Live Like a Star on Fox, Entertainment Tonight, Good Day LA, and Extra. Print features include San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly,Food and Wine, Wine Spectator, LA Confidential, Los Angeles Times, Angeleno, and Restaurants and Institutions.

Chef Ron Bilaro

Once a personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, Chef Ron Bilaro is one of the hottest chefs in America today. His service, in fact, is among the most in-demand around Hollywood circles even as Chicago’s (where he is based) crème de la crème also competes for his attention.

An alumnus of the Pasig Catholic College, Bilaro attended Letran and Maryknoll (now Miriam) colleges prior to moving to the States. After a brief stint as a flight attendant for United Airlines, Ron eventually pursued a career in the culinary arts. He worked as a personal chef while still studying at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago under Le Cordon Bleu. He graduated at the top of his class and continued to apprentice as a pastry chef at Rhapsody training under Chef Gene Kato. In 2002, he became sous chef to Chef Charles Arthur Smith who is Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef. In 2005, Bilaro was honored with the award for Excellence in Culinary Arts at the Reflections XVII Award Show-an annual awards show which recognizes major achievements by individuals or organizations that have had an impact on uplifting the Asian-American society in the United States. Currently, Bilaro is busy juggling a hectic schedule that have him bouncing constantly from state to state. He also writes a column, Dishing with Ron Bilaro,which appears on The Chicago Tribune,The Baltimore Sun of Baltimore, Maryland, and Sun Sentinel of South Florida.

Chef Cecilia De Castro
Cecilia M. de Castro, owner of Culinary Consultations, has a distinguished career in the culinary arts industry, spanning over 20 years. She is the culinary producer for the Emmy Award-winning Wolfgang Puck Show on the Food Network and is involved with Chef Wolfgang’s cookbook developments and product/recipe developments for the Food Network and Spago. Inspired by her parents’ belief in education and concern for others, Chef Cecilia continues to pursue her missions: to teach and share her experience in the culinary field and assist future chefs and to bring forward her Filipino heritage through its culture. She is the Instructor/Coordinator at Westlake Culinary Institute, and a 2004 IACP Teacher of the Year Nominee.

Chef Joseph Elevado

If patrons of the Social House at the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas are wondering about the Filipino-inspired dishes among the restaurant’s delicious treats, it’s because the top chef is Pinoy Joseph Elevado. Born in Staten Island, New York, Joseph was exposed very early to all types of international cuisines and developed a passion for food. He started to study the art of food at the New York Restaurant School in downtown Manhattan where he graduated in 1996. His first job was with the New York Friars Club where he worked as everything from a line cook to hot food preparation to catering in the confines of a busy kitchen. In 1997, Joseph joined Nobu NYC as a Master cook. While working at this flagship restaurant he honed his skills in classic Japanese food preparation, Japanese aesthetics and Asian flavor combinations. The following year, Joseph opened the popular Nobu Next Door as Head Kitchen Chef.

In 1999 he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine and opened Nobu Las Vegas and was promoted to Executive Chef in 2004 where he led a team of more than 60 employees and maintained the highest level of service on a daily basis.

After more than eight years of tutelage under Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Joseph has developed his own unique style of cooking that reflects his extensive training and love for Asian cuisines. Joseph’s philosophy of food is to use the freshest ingredients and create dishes that are easily interpreted by his guests. By blending Asian spices and sauces he creates recipes with unique bold flavors that enhance the texture of his unique preparations.

Chef Andre Guerrero

Named one of Los Angeles’ Top Chefs by Los Angeles Times Magazine, acclaimed Andre Guerrero is the Chef / Owner of Max in Sherman Oaks, Senor Fred and Oinkster in Eagle Rock, home to “slow fast food.”

A fixture on the Southern California culinary scene for more than 20 years, Chef Andre Guerrero has cooked in kitchens ranging from his family’s restaurant to the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel and developed his own style of contemporary ethnic and fusion cuisines in his many restaurants.

Chef Alex Dino

Cited by Fortune Magazine as among the best three chefs in the best company cafeterias across America is Chef Alex Dino, the brilliant Pinoy behind the “standout cafeteria cafe” of Factset Research Systems in Connecticut. Originally from Tondo, Manila, Alex Dino got his culinary training working in his mother’s cafeteria business from the time he was a young boy to his college days. He took up a Business course in the University of Santo Tomas and worked at two food companies, Baltimore Spice (Phils.), Inc. and Mix Plant Inc. before moving to the States. To further develop his skills, Alex enrolled at the Art Institute of New York City where he earned his Masters in Culinary Arts. He then worked in Alta restaurant as line cook, at Whole Foods Market as production chef and in Marriot Hotel as banquet chef before he was hired as executive chef of the Cafeteria of Factset Research Systems.

Every working day, Alex is tasked to prepare breakfast and lunch for 800 employees at the cafeteria and personally serves around 20 top managers who dine at a separate dining room. Dino and his staff create and serve countless concoctions for different food stations at the cafeteria – the pasta station, the Chinese food station, the grill and carving stations (with roasted filet mignon and other steaks), the baked goods, deli, pizza, soup and desserts stations. If it’s true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then our Pinoy chefs in the US have certainly won American hearts across the land!


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Will the airlines sink RP’s shipping industry?

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress

LOS ANGELES – Choosing the airway over the nautical highway.  The recent sea mishap in the Philippines involving Sulpicio Lines’ Princess of the Stars has further confirmed that traveling via the sea is not the preferred mode of passengers wanting to reach the other islands in the archipelago.

According to a report by ABS-CBN.com and Newsbreak, in the past, overloading was the primary cause for most sea tragedies, like in the case of the M/V Dona Paz which sank in 1987 after colliding with a small oil tanker. M/V Dona Paz had a capacity of only 1,518 passengers, but when tragedy struck, investigations showed that it was overloaded – carrying up to more than twice what it was allowed. The result, 4,375 people onboard died, making it as the worst maritime disaster during peacetime.

However, Princess of the Stars, which was plying the Manila-Cebu route had a capacity of over 2,000 passengers, but had only over 800 onboard when it encountered rough waters during typhoon “Frank.” This means that the ship sailed with just about 40 percent load. Also, the M/V Dona Paz tragedy in 1987 happened during the Christmas holidays, which was a peak season, while the M/V Princess was traveling during an off-peak season.

Still, the 40 percent load factor during an off-peak season is low, according to transportation industry observers.

Sky over water

Setting aside what has happened with the M/V Princess and other sea mishaps, the apparent changes in the inter-island transportation are not due to competing passenger liners, but from substitute mode of traveling. Local airlines have changed its business model and has converted to a low-cost, no-frills airline.

Local airline Cebu Pacific, which used to be a full-service airline started a new trend in 2005. Other local carriers soon followed after the deregulation of the aviation industry during the Ramos administration in the 90s.

Going for volume, fares were dropped for various domestic destinations by reducing turnaround time. Other costs were reduced by taking out other services such as complimentary food, as well as computerized ticketing and offering lower fares for early bookers.

At present, Cebu Pacific is offering 400,000 free seats for domestic flights for anyone traveling until December 31, 2008. Passengers who book for these flights will only shoulder non-refundable taxes, fuel and insurance charges.

PAL has followed suit with their PAL Express, which was launched last May 2008. The low-fare unit of Philippine Airlines, it mainly serves domestic island points throughout the Philippines from hubs in Cebu and Manila. It is even offering its popular ‘Buy 1, Take 1,’ promotional fare scheme that gives a free one-way domestic ticket for every such ticket bought.

Other airlines in fact are part of this trend like Asian Spirit and Southeast Asian Air, by offering affordable fares to local and even international destinations. The public seem to have embraced this, as the rate of flying passengers has increased. This increase not only accounts for ‘new’ fliers, but also regular flying passengers who were on a budget and now have a choice to choosing budget over luxury.

A round trip plane ticket between Manila and Cebu go as low as P3,000, and in the past boat fares ranged from P4,000 to P8,000. But even at reduced rates, the lowest a boat fare can go is P2,000 and the small difference in price against flying has been inviting enough for passengers to change their mode of transportation. Another factor to consider is travel time – a Manila to Cebu boat ride takes almost a day, compared to a little over an hour travel on a plane.

Still, shipping companies traditionally do not depend on just their passengers for revenue. Liners derive about 70 percent of their revenues from cargo and about 30 percent from passengers, according to Henry Basilio, a transportation expert from the University of Asia and the Pacific, in an interview with Newsbreak. The drop in revenues for sea travel has prompted shipping companies to convert ships to passenger-cargo lines to carry more cargo than passengers.

But passengers who cannot really afford to fly still opt to take the nautical highway. Shipping companies have joined together with the government-backed roll-on, roll-off (RORO) operations. Launched in 2003, RORO is provides a less expensive way for cargo business owners because of its multi-port approach.

However, the budget airline industry has taken most of the first and second class passengers of the shipping industry, said Basilio.

Improvement and upgrading of its sea fleets seem to be the solution, by introducing new facilities and amenities on board, as well as passenger accommodation and in the ticketing/booking process. But since the decline on its revenues and passengers, these investments might not materialize.

With latest sea tragedy, the continuing decline of passengers and the competitive fares offered by the budget airlines, it isn’t surprise why inter-island travelers have chosen to take the airway over the nautical highway.


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