Nothing can be more opposite than these two Filipino American chefs helming Northern and Southern California. Ang, noted by the San Francisco Chronicle as a Rising Star chef, helms the Filipino-Californian restaurant Abacá near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Monsod is the chef at Animae, a San Diego steakhouse with Asian culinary influences. Ang, who was born in the US but raised in the Philippines, came back at the age of 19 to the US to embark on his culinary career. Monsod, born in the heart of Hollywood, was on the nurse trajectory, but after failing her NCLEX to get her nursing license, she realized her passions lay in the kitchen. Ang, growing up, was a picky eater while Monsod ate her way through different cuisines driving around LA with her parents.
However, both were heavily influenced by culinary TV legends of The Food Network from Bobby Flay, to Iron Chef, to Tyler Florence, to Emeril Lagasse– very much on brand for CAAMFest. Their restaurants feature a modern, local, seasonal and personal take on traditional Filipino dishes. Both are forging the path, along with an army of new blood, to what Filipino American food can look and be. Over Zoom, we chatted about their history and plans for the future, not just for themselves, but for Filipino American food.
Yana Gilbuena-Babu: What do you see is the future of Filipino food in America?
Francis Ang: It’s gonna keep growing. There’s a lot of pockets all over the (united) states. Everybody is noticing. The media is noticing. It’s just here, you know? And people now know what it is. It’s not gonna be long from now from becoming a staple.
Tara Monsod: I want people to know more about us, you know? I want to get rid of the association that our food needs to be cheap. I just feel like we deserve a seat at the table with everybody else.
YGB: What are the challenges you face as a Filipino American chef?
FA: It’s a combination of things. We often get “it’s too expensive for Filipino food” or some Filipinos think they’re the expert of Filipino food and make comments like “ My lola (grandma) or mom makes it better”. But you know, we just shrug it off at this point because we don’t do super traditional Filipino food. Our food is “inspired” by it. The challenge really is, a lot of people coming in to judge versus actually coming to support and understand what we’re doing. And for the most part, they (judgers) don’t come back.
TM: The biggest thing is, I get underestimated a lot with my size (I’m 4’11”) and my skills. But I just let my work speak for itself. I just told myself to be better than the person next to me. I just want to be known as the chef who worked their ass off, was helpful to other people and was really into food.
YGB: What’s your kitchen culture like?
FA: Front and back of house is very familial. We try not to be strict, like fine dining strict, but everybody loves and respects each other. Once in a while, shit happens, but just don’t do it again. Like if you do, it’s a choice. But for the most part, it’s fun, we work, we hang out, we’re like a barkada (group of friends) family.
TM: My kitchen culture is reflective of our (Filipino) culture – very family-oriented; like you work together. There’s a constant reminder that front and back of house is one unit. We’re not separated and very dependent on each other. We like to treat each other with love and respect. I want this to be a place where you get along with your coworkers and love what you do, and you’re passionate about the food you’re serving or cooking.
YGB: What advice would you give to other aspiring Filipino-American chefs?
FA: You need to put in your time. It’s not because you made it, you’ve gotten some media attention, you’ve done pop-ups, you got an award, you still need to put in your time. Longevity is different. You gain knowledge, respect, put in your time and learn from people and be humble.
TM: Be relentless. Know the work that comes with it. Hone your craft. I know that sounds pretty cliche and like all of our people tell us that, but to do well in this industry, you gotta know your craft and really fall in love with it. You chose to do this life and you shouldn’t complain about it. You know what you’re getting yourself into.But the biggest thing is, just be f*cking unapologetic about what you want related to our culture, food and representation. Also, don;t be complacent and really continue to push it. Always ask yourself: “How can I make it better?”.
YGB: Lightning round questions: If you were a pancit ingredient, what would you be?
TM: I think shrimp. There’s a place in Echo Park (Los Angeles) called Little Ongpin, that’s been there forever, and they put fish cakes and fish balls, and they’re the ones who only do it.
YGB: If you were a Filipino dish, what would you be?
FA: *stumped, calls his wife Dian into the room*
Dian: He would be Adobo, coz he’s all-around. Adobo can be different things. He can be a lot of stuff. (laughs).
YGB: What is your favorite Filipino comfort food?
TM: Sinigang and Tinola. I love the warm sabaw (broth).
YGB: What is your favorite Filipino dish to make for yourself?
FA: I mean for us, it’s always sabaw (soup/broth), so sinigang.
TM: My ginataan, usually seafood.
YGB: What’s your favorite Filipino condiment?
TM: Banana ketchup. Or like some really good spicy vinegar.
The dinner at CAAMFest is part of a pivot by the festival to offer more immersive experiences, bringing people together and encouraging community building. Ang and Monsod will host two seatings, both featuring the same multi-course menu celebrating the diversity of Filipino-American cuisine. Ang and Monsod will use local and seasonal California ingredients and reimagine traditional Filipino dishes to create flavors that are both familiar and new. The stars aligned for these two to collaborate on an interstellar dinner, so don’t miss it.
By Yana Gilbuena-Babu, Chef & Writer
Futurist Flavors: Abacá x Animae Menu
Futurist Flavors: Abaca x Animae will take place Tuesday, May 16, with seatings at 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Book your tickets here.