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Cooking Filipino at FCI in NYC


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Nobody has come up with a convincing answer to the question "Why aren't there more Filipino restaurants in the US?" Filipino is the second-largest Asian-American group after Chinese-American so in theory there should be more Filipino restaurants than Indian, Korean, Japanese or Thai. But there are hardly any.

Some have suggested it's because the Filipino culture doesn't look approvingly on restaurant careers. Some say it's a marketing issue. Nobody is really sure what's going on here. Certainly it's not because the food is bad. There are as many great dishes in the Filipino repertoire as there are in any other Southeast Asian cuisine. And today I'm going to eat them.

I'm on my way downtown (writing to you from my home away from home, the #6 subway) to attend a 5-hour Filipino cooking class at the French Culinary Institute taught by Annette Tomei. Annette is one of the chef-instructors at FCI and is also a student in my food-blogging class. Annette writes a food-travel blog called Wander, Eat & Tell, and it's well worth checking out, whether you're interested in culinary travel to Italy, Brooklyn or Sebu [correction: Cebu], and also for Annette's experience, expertise and infectious enthusiasm.

The class runs from 10am to 3pm. We're supposed to meet out front of the FCI at 10, shop for ingredients (and, I hope, have snacks) in Chinatown, repair to the FCI kitchens to cook, and then have a late lunch wherein we eat what we've cooked.

Annette is doing this for free, out of the kindness of her heart and her belief that Filipino food deserves more exposure, so the only cost to those of us taking the class is a contribution to the ingredients kitty.

I'll report back later.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That is soo cool FG. I am excited to read your report and please don't hesitate to ask questions or post comments to us Filipinos in here.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

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Interestingly enough, I was at the big supermarket at the corner of Elizabeth and Hester (Dynasty?) the other day. I noticed for the first time a whole section dedicated to Filipino food; the market tends to be divided by countries of origin, so rather than all the soy sauce being in one place, it's in various places depending on where it's from.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Some have suggested it's because the Filipino culture doesn't look approvingly on restaurant careers. Some say it's a marketing issue. Nobody is really sure what's going on here.

I've never heard the first reason before. Got any pointers to an article or such that suggests that reason? I'm curious as to how it's defended.

I'm on my way downtown (writing to you from my home away from home, the #6 subway) to attend a 5-hour Filipino cooking class at the French Culinary Institute taught by Annette Tomei. Annette is one of the chef-instructors at FCI and is also a student in my food-blogging class. Annette writes a food-travel blog called Wander, Eat & Tell, and it's well worth checking out, whether you're interested in culinary travel to Italy, Brooklyn or Sebu, and also for Annette's experience, expertise and infectious enthusiasm.

Is Annette Filipino? Do you know what region she's from? I hope it's Bicol, because I want to see some of their native dishes!

BTW, it's Cebu, not Sebu. (Assuming you mean the place in the Philippines)

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Got any pointers to an article or such that suggests that reason?

Here's one example where Christeta Comerford, the White House chef (who is Filipino) says:

Comerford offered that Filipinos aren’t really restaurant-going people; moreover, Filipinos have always preferred homemade Filipino food as opposed to outside Filipino food.

.....

Comerford later told me that cooking simply wasn’t looked at as a legitimate career for a while, and she herself didn’t consider it one.

http://www9.gmanews.tv/story/43553/White-H...San-Miguel-beer

Is Annette Filipino?  Do you know what region she's from?  I hope it's Bicol, because I want to see some of their native dishes!

She's Italian-American, as far as I know.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It was a long day.

The first thing we did, after meeting up outside of the FCI's Grand Street entrance, was venture into Chinatown for some breakfast. We didn't eat Filipino food for breakfast. I'm not even sure such a thing is possible in Chinatown, or anywhere else in town for that matter.

We started with tofu at Tung Woo Co. (232 Grand St. at Bowery), which is a hole in the wall (literally, it's just a carve-out with a counter facing the street) serving mostly tofu. For a dollar you get a pint of freshly made, warm, silken tofu. For $1.50 you get a quart. It comes with a little container of sugar syrup. The woman looked at us like we were nuts when we asked for a fistful of spoons.

These are all cell-phone photos so sorry for the poor quality especially of the indoor shots.

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Around the corner there are some stone steps outside a building that might be or have been a bank, so we settled in there and ate some comforting tofu, pouring a little sugar syrup at a time on top.

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We ate about half of it. There was much discussion about how to convey the rest back to FCI. I suggested we throw out the remaining 60 cents worth of tofu but nobody listened to me. It was claimed with authority that later, after we cooked all day and laid out a buffet, the tofu would be part of the buffet and we could taste it again, and that this would somehow be educational. Upon our return to FCI the tofu was placed in the refrigerator. It was of course completely forgotten and never re-emerged. I assume for the next week various people will open the refrigerator in the FCI's fourth-floor kitchen and wonder what it is. Then in about a week someone will throw it out.

After our tofu appetizer we went over to Century Cafe (123 Bowery between Grand and Hester) for baked goods and iced tea.

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The two furry looking ones in the foreground are called crunchy taro buns. We got them stuffed with pork but there were several other options. They were by far my favorite, tasting a little like old-fashioned chow mein but much better. (The crispy outside was a little like chow mein noodles, and the gooey taro interior with chunks of pork was reminiscent of pork swimming in the thick white sauce of 1970s chow mein.) Moving clockwise, there's a coconut croissant, a bun stuffed with bean paste, and a brick of lemon-curd-filled sweet bread. The place was packed -- not an empty four-top in the house so we took the end of someone else's table and the table for two by the bathroom and reallocated a bunch of chairs so our group could sort of cluster together.

Century Cafe even has a website: http://centurycafe.com/

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Next we went shopping. By no means did we do all the necessary shopping. This was more of a market tour, actually. There were three facets of the overall shopping operation: 1- a lot of stuff was acquired ahead of time so that meats could marinate overnight, things could simmer all morning, etc.; 2- some staples came from Western purveyors, e.g., butter; and 3- while we were out in Chinatown we acquired some vegetables, fish and a few other last-minute needs.

We visited:

Tan Tin Hung Supermarket (121 Bowery at Grand)

Po Wing Hong Food Market (49 Elizabeth at Canal)

Asia Market Corp. (71.5 Mulberry near Bayard). This was probably my favorite place. It's mostly packaged goods, and the selection is seemingly endless.

Sun Vin Grocery (75 Mulberry). By now our group had rendezvoused with our two Filipino guest experts, so they got in on the decisionmaking and picked up water spinach as an addition to the menu.

Hong Kong Market (68 Elizabeth at Hester). This is where we got fish.

We also picked up a few mangoes and other fruits from street vendors.

All the while, Annette shared what she has learned about Filipino ingredients. I retained little, and also all the stores kind of blurred together. We were ducking in and out of places with great speed. I may very well be saying something about one place that I meant to say about another. By tomorrow I'm sure Annette will have followed up with documentation, so I can reconcile everything.

At a few places I noticed the same thing Mitch noticed: actual sections of Filipino ingredients. That makes sense. We have a lot of Filipinos here. If they're not eating in Filipino restaurants, some of them must be cooking at least some Filipino food at home.

For myself, I acquired as much produce as I could carry, because the produce prices in Chinatown make a mockery of what I pay uptown. I got water spinach (because I knew I'd be learning how to cook it), baby bok choy, guy lon, ginger, garlic, grapes, cherries and several boxes of strawberries.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We cooked so many dishes it wasn't possible for every person to help with every dish, so I'll have a number of knowledge gaps filled in later. When Annette provides the written recipes I'll try to post them. Being the least skilled cook in the room, I spent much of the day doing the most menial tasks available: cleaning and chopping scallions, peeling and dicing cucumbers, slicing radishes on the mandoline, removing the seeds from hot peppers, browning pieces of chicken in a skillet, etc. I hasten to add that I performed those tasks poorly.

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Those are pigs' trotters that had been simmering in a vinegar-laced broth all morning while we were out shopping. These would become "crispy pata" after deep frying.

These are some of the things we got at the market, and some other provisions. That's water spinach in the back. The jars are full of some sweet bean and tapioca-like mixture that get spooned over ice cream. In the red bag are lychees and rambutans.

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Here's a look at Annette Tomei, our instructor.

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In that second photo, showing some of our group, on the far left is Haley, another instructor at the FCI. She was Annette's primary assistant. I'm going to have to confirm spelling of names, because I only heard the names -- I didn't see them in writing. The cluster of three people you see between Annette and Haley is the Filipino expert contingent: (left to right) Louisa, Benji and Rocky. I think Benji is Annette's brother-in-law. I need to confirm that. Also, obscured in the photo, is one of the students from my class, Ana, who writes a Latin-food blog called Hungry Sofia, where you'll probably find a more precise report on the day than you'll find here.

The ribs (pork), chicken and fish (trout) were marinating ahead of time:

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The fish went on racks to dry:

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Annette then deep fried both the fish and the trotters, which were later roasted in the oven as well:

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Haley preparing the kilawin, which is also apparently called kinilaw, which is basically a Filipino ceviche. I prepped all those vegetables by the way:

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Benji helped throughout, tasting and adjusting to get the Filipino flavors he was after.

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For the chicken and pork adobo (adobo is the best-known Filipino dish), Ana and I browned all the meat, which had already been simmered. It then went back into the pot.

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We made ice cream from ume plum. Making ice cream is really easy when you have a Vita-Prep, a professional ice-cream machine and two FCI chef-instructors to do it for you.

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We also sauteed water spinach with tomatoes, shallots, shrimp paste and some of the cooking liquid from the adobo, and we prepped some mangoes and steamed some rice. This is part of our buffet, which wasn't set up all in one place so it wasn't possible to take just one photo to show it all. The big pot has rice, next to it is the water spinach, the tall metal pot has a lemonade-like beverage made from a lime-like fruit I have to get the name of again, and the pile of white stuff on a plate is a dessert called palitaw where we boiled discs of a glutinous rice dough and then rolled them in coconut:

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This is an amazing cake, casava bibinka, the preparation of which I wasn't involved in:

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I also was not involved in making the fish soup (singiang), though you may notice those are also the vegetables I prepped. The soup itself was not blurry; that's just the photo.

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The menu as planned, though there were some changes driven by market availability, human resources and time:

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I'll follow up with more details once the written materials show up in my inbox.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That's probably right. I'll follow up with that and other details once I get the written materials.

Edited to add: yes, in addition to saying "Ube" about 30 times throughout the day, and in addition to noting it on her menu and in materials she posted online before class, and in addition to showing us the packages of product that said "Ube," Annette also wrote it on the whiteboard:

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Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We were in the middle of our own cooking project, and getting a little hungry, when a chef-instructor from the neighboring kitchen came in to ask if we wanted lunch. I guess next door they had prepared "family meal" for the students and had, as seems to be standard, made ten times as much of it as needed. So we said "sure," and he brought in hotel pan upon hotel pan of food. Skirt steak, chicken, hamburgers, roasted vegetables . . .

We also prepared ten times as much food as our group could possibly eat, so at the end of the day I was able to load up a bunch of quart-sized takeout containers with food. I took several large pieces of skirt steak, a container of our adobo chicken and a container of chicken from the class next door, a quart of rice, some water spinach and some other stuff too. It's enough to feed my family for several days.

I only go into FCI once or twice a week, and only for an eight-week period while I'm teaching my class, but the people who go in there every day could I'm sure easily eat six meals a day without ever spending a penny.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Got any pointers to an article or such that suggests that reason?

Here's one example where Christeta Comerford, the White House chef (who is Filipino) says:

Comerford offered that Filipinos aren’t really restaurant-going people; moreover, Filipinos have always preferred homemade Filipino food as opposed to outside Filipino food.

.....

Comerford later told me that cooking simply wasn’t looked at as a legitimate career for a while, and she herself didn’t consider it one.

http://www9.gmanews.tv/story/43553/White-H...San-Miguel-beer

Is Annette Filipino?  Do you know what region she's from?  I hope it's Bicol, because I want to see some of their native dishes!

She's Italian-American, as far as I know.

Correct, I'm Italian-American. Just a big fan of Filipino foods ever since the first time my brother-in-law Benjie cooked for me. He's from Cebu.

"A writing cook and a cooking writer must be bold at the desk as well as the stove." - MFK Fisher

www.wandereatandtell.com

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Some updates to the cast of characters, both to specify who they are and because my guesses at spellings were wrong in most cases:

Annette Tomei. According to the FCI website, "After graduating from The FCI in 1994, Chef Annette ran a chalet and owned a café in a Utah ski resort, was Executive Chef of a Napa Valley winery, and ran a private chef service catering to the wineries of the Napa Valley area. She has also co-authored Chile Aphrodisia, contributed to Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook and earned a Master’s degree in Gastronomy."

Annette's co-instructor, Hayley, is one of the Italian cooking instructors at the school.

Benjie is Annette's brother-in-law.

Raqui (pronounced "Rocky") is Benjie's cousin.

Luisa is a family friend.

Incidentally, both Annette and Ana have reported on the class on their blogs, with their own photos and accounts that are surely more reliable than my own.

Filipino cooking class report on Wander Eat & Tell

Report on Hungry Sofia Part 1

Report on Hungry Sofia Part2

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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More like mochi, though Annette kept saying we didn't get the texture right so for all I know it was supposed to be like dim sum.

That was the rice Benjie and Annette picked, and by the way it was fantastic. I may have to switch to it as my house brand. I'm not sure there was any actual Filipino rice available in Chinatown. Or if there was I guess Benjie and Annette just like this stuff better.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks for sharing, FG. There's actually quite a few Filipino restaurants in San Francisco and New Jersey, though some of them might be better called cafeterias. I can't really think of a reason why they're not more popular, especially since the US has had 2 military bases in the Philippines in the last century. Maybe because it's too easily reproduced at home?

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

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Funny coincidence. Annette was my instructor last year when I took the culinary techniques class. I had no idea she could cook Filipino....I did like her very much as an instructor...

We had some friends in Seattle who were Filipino and they always said that the reason you don't see more Filipino restaurants is that most people outside of the country don't like it. They do lots of weird stuff with fruit and meats and combinations that we're not used to...

Of course both of the chef blogs mentioned above are blocked by the Great Firewall of China. *sigh*

Edited by eternal (log)
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