Bravo TV’s Top Chef will return in December for its 13th season, but it was in Season 4 in 2008 that viewers were introduced to then 29 year-old Filipino American chef Dale Talde, who famously served halo-halo in a Quickfire challenge. He eventually placed 6th in the competition, with Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés at his final judges’ table. Prior to Top Chef, Talde already boasted an impressive resume, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1998 and then working at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong in Chicago, Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto and Stephen Starr’s Buddakan in New York City. Talde has since moved on to his own endeavors, opening Talde Brooklyn in 2012, Talde Jersey City in 2015 and publishing his first cookbook, Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn. Both restaurants and the cookbook offer contemporary twists on Asian fare, most notably the cuisine he grew up eating. http://www.taldebrooklyn.com
—Lisa and Irene Yadao
Q: Where did you grow up and how did Filipino food fit into your childhood and adulthood? How about your culinary career – have you always wanted to focus on Filipino food?
A: I grew up in Chicago. Filipino food is my base. It was, for my younger years, the only thing that I was exposed to food-wise. I actually steered so far away from it for most of my career. It was something that I couldn’t wrap my head around. Being classically French trained and going to culinary school meant that the techniques to cook Filipino food were foreign to me. To be honest, I watched my mom cook but I didn’t learn to cook that way. It’s different and hard to translate. As a chef, a lot of what I do is figuring out “how do I make this thing taste good?” But with Filipino cooking, I wanted it to taste like my mom’s food but I couldn’t figure that out. So I stayed away from it until I was older. Then I figured out that I could accept that and make it my own.
Q: When or how did you come to realize there was a market or a need for your dishes?
A: I never thought there was a market. I was just cooking food that I enjoyed. I knew that people liked Filipino food because it tastes really good. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s delicious. It wasn’t the market, but it was me understanding who I was and where I came from.
Q: How is your food received by both the Fil-Am community and non-Filipinos?
A: Filipinos look at my food and say “that’s not Filipino.” To be honest, not a lot of Filipino people eat at my restaurants when they want Filipino food. Most Filipinos want to eat what their mom made them and that’s not what I do. Non-Filipinos look at my food and really can’t decipher what they’re eating. A lot of what I do is trying to make things less daunting for people. In the Asian-American vocabulary of food, I try and make things understandable. I place things on a table without you having to ask “What is that?” I’m grouping it together with a bunch of things that make sense. I never said it was pure Filipino, it’s inspired. I leave the authentic cooking to people like Andy Ricker or Eddy Huang. Those guys who want to embrace pure authentic food. Mine comes from a place of inspiration rather than authenticity.
Q: What trends are you noticing with Filipino food, whether it’s a dish that’s gaining popularity or chefs trying new twists on old traditions?
A: One thing that I saw is the idea of rice. Just rice. There is a rice bar in Los Angeles with heirloom Filipino rice that I didn’t even know existed! It’s so cool to see the interest.
Q: In America, we’re used to seeing other Asian foods on menus across the country, yet there hasn’t been that same kind of accessibility to Filipino food. But now there seems to be a growing number of restaurants, food trucks, pop-ups featuring Filipino cuisine. What can this shift be attributed to?
A: My thought on that is that we’re here now. You have to look at the migration of Filipinos into the U.S. A lot of us are in our 30s now, we started cooking in our 20s, now it’s our time to do our own thing or start expressing ourselves to the restaurant that we’re working with. Now we’re able to expand. The lack of Filipino food in the country is due to how open we are. The cultures mentioned above, they tended to band together when they moved to America, so they opened restaurants that they were familiar with. We’re [Filipinos] a bit more of an adventurous palate. In the Philippines, we were colonized by the US and were almost a territory. We embraced the American culture a lot more. We’re in the US; we’re open to trying out different cultures, so we wanted to get down with what’s American. The lack of availability of Filipino products in America also meant that we couldn’t get our food here, so we just ate what was available. The other Asian countries had readily available products for them. People don’t know about Filipino cuisine because we’ll just eat whatever is there.
Q: How do you feel Top Chef and other food-based shows have impacted Filipino cuisine in mainstream America (if at all)?
A: It’s amazing. There have been a string of Filipino contestants – one who won (Paul Qui)! There have been a lot of us. We want to stand up for it, we want to rep who we are. When I did halo-halo for the first time on Season 4 no one had seen it; no one knew what it was. We’d been eating shave ice forever. When Paul Qui did his version of singigang he did it so elegantly. It has been tremendous.
Q: What is one dish you feel best represents the Philippines and why?
A: Dinuguan – there is a struggle when you eat that dish. There is a fight, a resiliency to Filipinos from when the Spanish left, that you realize when you eat that dish. It is such a soul food. It’s the leftovers. It is a version of adobo that has a struggle. This is all we have left? This is what we can eat? And we do it. It doesn’t look pretty. It is cooked for a very long time, but hey, people made the best with what we had. It’s organ meat, it’s fatty bits of pork, it’s blood. You taste the dish, it’s sharp, it’s earthy, and it’s spicy. To me, it embodies the Philippines. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but there is a beauty in how rustic it is.
Chef Dale Talde’s Short Rib Kare-Kare
Short Rib, seasoned and seared 4 #
Belachan 1 tbsp;
Garlic 4 cloves
Onion 1 large
Ginger 1 2 inch knob
Chilies 1 each
Annatto Seed 1 tbsp
Turmeric ¼ tsp
Tomato, large dice 2 large tomatoes
Sugar 2 tbsp
White Vinegar ½ cup
Coconut Milk 2 cans
Peanut Butter ½ cup
Cornstarch 2 tbsp
- Season the short ribs with salt and sear on the plancha on all sides. Wrap belachan in foil and toast in salamander, or broil in the oven, for 20 minutes.
- In large pot with oil, sauté onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies until lightly caramelized. Add annatto seed and turmeric and lightly toast in oil. Deglaze with tomatoes and add sugar.
- Next add white vinegar and reduce by half. Finally add 2 cans of coconut milk.
- In a hotel pan add seared short ribs and add shrimp paste/coconut milk mixture and cover with parchment and foil and braise in 300 degree oven for 4-5 hours or until short ribs are braised.
- Remove short ribs and portion into 8 oz. portions. Pass braising liquid through a fine chinois and using a beurre mixer add peanut butter to strained liquid and puree until incorporated.
- Warm the sauce and thicken with the cornstarch and water mixture. Glaze the short ribs with sauce. Plate with cooked Hong Kong Noodles, cilantro stems, pickled Thai chilies, crispy shallots, toasted dried shrimp, toasted desiccated coconut, and chopped peanuts.
Cooked Hong Kong Noodles
Pickled Thai Chilies
Toasted Dried Shrimp
Toasted Desiccated Coconut
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This story is a part of Off the Menu: Asian America, a multimedia project between the Center for Asian American Media and KQED, featuring a one-hour PBS primetime special by award-winning filmmaker Grace Lee (American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs), original stories and web content.