The New Filipino Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the Globe hits shelves today! This gorgeous cookbook is a mouthwatering, multifaceted introduction to Filipino food as told through the stories and recipes of 30 chefs and home cooks of the Filipino diaspora. Check out the book here, and read on to gain more insight from the book’s editor.
Q & A with Jacqueline Chio-Lauri, Editor of The New Filipino Kitchen
You have an extensive background in the food industry and you’ve worked in several different countries. How did you originally get involved in the industry?
On my last day at the University of the Philippines, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant administration, a job ad thumbtacked on the college bulletin board caught my attention. A certified Angus beef steak house in the city’s business district was looking for an assistant manager. I applied and was hired after two interviews.
Months later, the first five-star hotel to open in Manila in 15 years was recruiting for management trainees. I applied and was one of the 14 selected out of thousands of applicants. Seven out of the 14 were assigned to F&B (food and beverage) and sent to chains abroad to train before returning to Manila to open the hotel and its numerous restaurants. I was one of them.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a Filipina working abroad?
At 24, I was hired as a restaurant manager for a deluxe hotel in Dubai and offered the same salary and benefits package as my male and Caucasian counterparts. People couldn’t wrap their heads around that, so rumors spread that I was sleeping with the boss (not true, of course).
My assistant at that time was a blue-eyed, blonde German woman. Guests automatically assumed that she was the manager. One particular incident I will never forget was when I welcomed a guest to the restaurant—the guest ignored my outstretched arm, walked past, and shook the hand of my assistant standing behind me. The saddest part was that this guest happened to be a Filipina. More of the challenges I experienced appear in my story in the book.
Why did you decide to compile these stories and recipes into The New Filipino Kitchen? How did the project come together and what was your experience working with all of the different contributors like?
I was working on a food memoir about the food I grew up eating, the “emotional soufflé” of my childhood in the Philippines’ culinary capital, and my lola (grandmother)—a complex, strong-headed woman, storyteller, and cook extraordinaire. The intention was to immortalize the memories, reflections, and lessons learned so that they could be passed on to family members and relatives, but a voice in my head wouldn’t let up. “What have you done for your motherland?” it nagged.
I decided to go broader and round up kababayans (compatriots) around the world. Having lived in many places with no Filipino food presence, I always longed for our cuisine to be more accessible globally. One question I was often asked and struggled to answer was, “What is Filipino food?” No short explanation really did it justice, because as you know, most of the time, food is not just about food. The narratives behind each dish put the food into context. It’s been one hell of a ride! I can’t sing the praises enough of those who have contributed to and supported this project.
Interest in Filipino cuisine is clearly on the rise, especially in the United States and Canada. Why do you think Filipino food is only now starting to get the recognition it deserves?
I have two theories. One is globalization. I’m not from the United States or Canada so I can only speculate. Globalization has made the world smaller. What only the privileged few could experience or taste by traveling is now available to almost everyone at their doorstep. Think of all the exotic fruits, vegetables, and spices that your local supermarket stocks compared to what they stocked years ago. I remember having to ask my mother to ship ginger to me when I lived in Croatia because I couldn’t find it anywhere. Nobody even knew what it was then. Now, it’s available everywhere. People have now become more exposed and open to different flavor spectrums and combinations.
Filipino food is for the adventurous palate, and I think many people are now ready for it. I would also go as far as to say that globalization has made us Filipinos less overprotective of our culinary traditions. What might have been considered as sacrilegious before is tolerable now. Saying that, I hope the Filipino food police or the guardians of gastronomy won’t scorn if my sinigang recipe is not like their nanay’s! Knock on wood.
My second theory is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is said that members of the new generation are better off than the members of the generation before them. Understandably, the focus of the first-generation Filipino immigrant was on survival, necessities, and security (the first stage in the hierarchy). As those needs are met for the next generation, there’s a shift up the ladder of the hierarchy. The need to be recognized or accepted for our identity and for who we are became one of the priorities. This, in my opinion, is why there are more and more people of Filipino heritage who showcase their identity through food. I think that’s what the Filipino food movement is about.
What are the three best tips you would give to home cooks who have never made Filipino food before?
1. Don’t be daunted. It’s not as difficult as it seems. Witnessing my lola slave away for hours on end in the kitchen gave me the impression that Filipino food was very time consuming and labor intensive to make—until I started cooking it myself. Believe me, it doesn’t have to be. And the more you cook it, the easier it becomes.
2. Don’t fret. If you don’t get the flavors or seasonings just right, there’s always a fallback: sawsawan, the dipping sauces and relishes that are hallmarks of the cuisine.
3. Cook more than you need. Many dishes, especially those stewed with acid and aromatics, develop flavor and complexity when stored in the fridge. Reheat and enjoy!
What’s your favorite part of Filipino food culture?
One of the most common greetings in the Philippines is, “Kumain ka na?” It means, “Have you eaten?” Food is always shared and everyone who comes to the house is invited to join at the table to eat. I grew up thinking that it was rude to eat without offering what you’re eating to everyone present. I thought this was a universal rule until I lived abroad.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the book (besides your own!)?
Not just one favorite. I have favorites depending on my mood or the occasion. For something quick that everyone in our multicultural family would surely love, I’d cook Dalena’s spaghetti sauce afritada. If I have non-Filipino guests and want to show off the range of the cuisine, I’d prepare Rowena’s inihaw—grilled fish in banana leaves—but I would use filleted fish (instead of whole) and bake it in the oven. I would also make Vanessa’s kare-kare using tofu as the protein. There’s something for everyone in the book, that’s for sure!
What’s next for you?
Getting settled in my new and seventh home country and finding the other half of my food beginnings. And who knows? Maybe The New Filipino Kitchen II.