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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