Monday, March 01, 2010

Why Is It So Hard To Find an Upscale Filipino Restaurant?

(Flickr pic by Alexandra Moss.)

Wednesday afternoon, Maria and I were having this very discussion: Where are all the upscale Filipino restaurants? It's easy to find fast food Filipino joints (including chains like Jollibee); buffet-style mom and pop spots; and sit-down restaurant/bakeries (like Goldilocks and Red Ribbon). Even the fanciest of the lot are more of the "fast casual" variety.

It's not for a lack of top-notch chefs of Filipino descent in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, the morning after we brought up this topic, the Los Angeles Times examined it for its lead Food section article:

Some cuisines, such as the deeply flavorful mélange of foods from the Philippines, seem to resist assimilation into mainstream culture, thriving in home kitchens but stubbornly remaining there.

And for the many chefs of Filipino heritage who cook in some of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles, there is a very distinct line drawn between their private and professional kitchens — the food of their home culture may be cooked for staff meals, but it rarely crosses the pass into the dining room itself.

"I love it. I grew up eating it," says (Oinkster's Andre) Guerrero, a Filipino American chef who has owned or partnered in a string of restaurants in Los Angeles over the last 25 years. "But how does it fit into what we do? It really doesn't."

Guerrero had put the traditional Filipino parfait halo-halo and an upscale version of his classic chicken adobo on the menu at his earlier restaurant Max, and milkshakes made from the purple yam ube are a favorite at the Oinkster. But for the most part, the cuisine of his home stays there...

"It's probably one of the least understood cuisines," says Rodelio Aglibot, a Filipino chef who was the executive chef at Koi before opening the now-shuttered Yi Cuisine, perhaps the only upscale Filipino restaurant Los Angeles has had. "Are we Pacific Islanders? Are we Asians? There isn't, like, a defined identity," says Aglibot, who is now chef-partner of Sunda in Chicago.

Adobo-themed restaurant, anyone?

The blog Burnt Lumpia further discusses the topic here.

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