Fil-Am chefs push modern Pinoy cuisine to mainstream palates

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

June 19, 2014

NEW YORK CITY – “An Evening in Manila” started off as a small fundraiser party where young Filipino Americans could dress up, dance, drink, eat Filipino food and donate to charity.

“That’s ‘An Evening in Manila’ — a bunch of 20s, 30s, or early 40s, really dynamic group of people, mostly are Filipino Americans and want to feel a tie to the country,” the event’s co-founder Nicole Ponseca said. “You’re part American, part Filipino — this is how we can maintain our roots.”

Now on its fourth year, “An Evening in Manila” has grown into a Filipino food movement that pushes lasang pinoy (Filipino taste) to the mainstream palate.

The success of Pinoy restaurants like Maharlika and Jeepney in New York is mostly because their owners and chefs continue to re-invent the taste and look of the Filipino cuisine.

Team Maharlika’s latest creation – puto with dinugan toppings – it’s the same Pinoy favorite dinuguan, only modernized.

“Evening in Manila” Co-Founder Tomas De Los Reyes said, “We always knew the food was amazing. It was more of a challenge on presenting and owning it, and having a lot of pride.”

Ilonggo Chef Yana Gilbuena’s “KBL” or “Kadios, Baboy and Langka” was a favorite among non-Pinoys.

KBL is a popular Ilonggo soup deconstructed to a bite-size pulutan made of pulled pork with young jackfruit salsa.

New York City resident Matthie Baumann said, “Refreshing, but a little bit meaty. Very nice.”

“It’s amazing, it’s great, I love the taste, I love the variety, I’m in love,” New Yorker Uli Denker said.

Gilbuena’s Salo Series Dinner Project, featured on CNN Wednesday, is a moving Filipino pop-up dinner that is traveling to 50 states in 50 weeks.

For only $50, diners will be served a five-course Filipino meal, kamayan style.

Gibuena said it’s the yummiest way to explore the three regions (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao) of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines through food beyond adobo and lumpia.

“Everything is so new for them, like yung banana leaves. Yung setting man lang, kasi I’m letting them eat with their hands. So it’s like this is so new, like the food itself,” Gilbuena said. ”They didn’t think that Filipino food could be familiar and at the same time different.”

Like many of the chefs showcasing their Filipino restaurants or pop-ups at this “Evening in Manila” event, Gilbuena has one big goal in mind.

“Biggest goal ko is to spread Filipino cuisine by the end of it. Like people would be like, “Oh let’s go out and have Filipino’, instead of like saying let’s go for Thai or Japanese. Now I want it to be like a staple.”

You may contact Don Tagala at

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