Filipino chefs make it to food and wine’s best list

Photographs courtesy of ig/musang musang’s Pork Belly Tocino.

September 15, 2022

Almost like an existential query in the global culinary world, the question “Is Filipino cuisine the next big thing?” has been begging to be answered as far back as a decade ago, when the likes of the late Anthony Bourdain and food show host Andrew Zimmern were already championing the cause.

Thanks to the efforts of Filipino cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, mothers, nannies, and all who care to spread the word that tasting Pinoy is more than just about exotic balut and deep-fried snacks like lumpia (though both of these are perfectly savory), Filipino food has finally been served its due.

The latest recognition is courtesy of two gifted Filipino chefs — Tim Flores of Kasama restaurant and Melissa Miranda of Musang
— who have caught the attention and approval of notable American publication Food & Wine as among the Best New Chefs of 2022.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/Melissa Miranda
CHEF Melissa Miranda of Musang.

First Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant

In May 2022, chef Flores’ restaurant Kasama, which he runs with his Korean-American wife Genie Kwon in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, already achieved a decisive milestone as the world’s first Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant.

On foodandwine.com, writer Kushbuh Shah ruminated on the difficulty of choosing which time of the day to pop in at the restaurant for one of Flores and Kwon’s inventive bakery creations or full meals.

“By day, Kasama is part fast-casual operation, part bakery. At night, it transforms into a fine-dining restaurant. The power move? Pop in during the morning for breakfast and pastries, and return in the evening for the restaurant’s thoughtful, highly calibrated tasting menu,” wrote Shah.

Photograph courtesy of ig/musang
Kasama’s Cocktails and Pulutan.

“You might kick off the day with one of Kasama’s extraordinary breakfast sandwiches stacked with squares of fluffy soufflé eggs, tater tot-like frozen hash brown patties, and longganisa sausage. (They sell 600 of these a week, and yes, it’s inspired by the Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s),” Shah continued.

Their skills have been noticed not just in their versions of local cuisine, but also in their refined baked offerings such as Kwon’s thoughtfully made ham-and-cheese Danish shaped like an éclair, so that all the fillings can be eaten.

Another Kasama fare mentioned by Food & Wine is the kinilaw, soured with vinegar and a fruity olive oil, made luxurious with golden caviar pearls as topping and then smoked to layer its profile with more sweetness and piquancy.

Kasama, which means “companion” in Filipino, enjoys the support of local patrons and is considered a popular neighborhood establishment. The Food and Wine distinction is a gift, a far cry from the reason they opened the place, said Flores: “We wanted to do something a little more accessible… the way we liked to eat.”

Chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, owners of Kasama.

Deeply seasonal cooking

Meanwhile, chef Melissa Miranda of Musang, located in Seattle, has made a culinary destination out of her dining place that used to house elderly Asian immigrants. Musang is in Beacon Hill, a neighborhood where her father lived shortly after his arrival from Manila.

On foodandwine.com, Miranda reminisced, “I grew up coming up there with him all the time.

“There were two different Filipino restaurants and a lot of Filipino businesses. And when I returned as an adult, it had completely changed; everywhere had shut down. It broke my heart.”

The Pinoy immigrant’s life deeply embedded in her personal fabric, Miranda remembers cooking adobo and lumpia with her father while trying out other cuisines as well in their neighborhood. Being a chef, however, wasn’t in her original plans.

Instead, Miranda worked in fashion management after college, at Nordstrom, and moved to Italy where she became an English teacher and “fell in love with both an Italian and Italy itself.” She also studied cooking in Italy and eventually found herself working in various dining spots there. But a pivotal point came when she suffered from heartbreak and found herself back under the Seattle sky.

According to the site, “Miranda’s deeply seasonal and local Filipino cooking means pushing the boundaries of what might be considered ‘traditional.’ The laing, which is typically made with long-cooked taro leaves and coconut milk, is often made with collard greens, Swiss chard, or kale.”

Between the overlay of Italian and Pinoy techniques and dishes, Miranda didn’t forget to include familiar tastes such as Musang’s crispy fried chicken brined in buttermilk, garlic salt, and mochiko (sweet rice flour) with gravy that tastes exactly like the well-loved Jollibee gravy.

“The biggest thing about Musang is that it is for us, by us,” Miranda says in foodandwine.com. “I look at this opportunity, this restaurant, and it’s so humbling and such an honor. What Musang represents and what it means for us, as a community, is just huge.”


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