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.