On August 8, 2015, the predominantly Filipino-American crowd filled a small auditorium at the sold out Next Day Better event in Downtown Los Angeles where local Filipino-American Chefs highlighted a public talk about the Filipino Food Movement; a familiar topic among those of us in the Filipino community and in the Los Angeles food scene. This event was not the first of its kind by Next Day Better; an organization that is the Think Tank of the younger Filipino-American community. They have already brought their food series to Los Angeles and to other metropolitan areas of the United States and Canada. In a matter of months, their next stop will be in Manila, Philippines.
First to start the discussion was Justin Garrido, one of the founders of Social Products; a company that sells Organic Rice from the Philippines. He mentioned his visit to the Philippines was an eye-opener when he discovered most farmers and farm workers didn’t have the ability to meet the demands of mass production farming and they, at times, found themselves struggling to put food on their own tables to eat. Through Garrido’s social entrepreneurship and Social Products, the farmers and their workers could have a better life crafting rice through a Fair Trade partnership. The collaboration imports varieties of organic rice to the U.S. and is sold in grocers like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc. A percentage of the sales is reinvested to the farms and the workers by way of educating them on farming techniques and better business practices, and in improving their standard of living.
The next guest speaker was Los Angeles native and Filipino-American Chef Alvin Cailan, the owner of Eggslut and co-owner of Ramen Champ. He described what it was like growing up in the Los Angeles area as a Latch Key Kid (a child who comes home from school alone), because both his hard working Filipino-immigrant parents worked long hours. As a kid, cooking to eat was his salvation and he learned it from his father.
Cailan also spoke of what it was like growing up in a typical Filipino household; obeying the parents, going to college, getting a job after college, and buying a home. However, an unannounced life change led him to Portland, Oregon where he decided to pursue becoming a Chef. He learned cooking in several fine dining restaurants for free and finally got a stint as a paid chef for a few months until the restaurant’s sudden closing. But what led him back to Los Angeles was a promise by Chef David Lefevre to open and work at Manhattan Beach Post aka MB Post; a restaurant that was slated to open in a manner of six months. However, before getting back to LA, Cailan sought temporary work at Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, but was given a job at Bouchon to continue honing his culinary skills.
His next life changing moment was at the age of 30, when he sold his car (a prized possession of a young Filipino-American Man in LA) and bought a gourmet food truck he named Eggslut.
Cailan capivated the audience of the time when he saw author, journalist, former NY Times Food Critic, and former Gourmet Food Editor Ruth Reichl approach his Eggslut Food Truck to place an order. At the time she was in LA to write a book. “Back then, Eggslut was a one man gourmet food truck operation,” he explained. He did all the prepping, the cooking, the serving, and the driving. He knew who SHE was in the culinary world and yet kept his cool walking up to hand her the food that he just made from scratch. Then he watched her eat from the tiny window inside the truck. That day was literally the game changer for him and Eggslut as the next day Reichl, through her personal blog post,
got the word out about her dining experience from a Food Truck [eating breakfast]. The popularity of Eggslut was an overnight sensation in the LA food scene. It eventually led to the opening of the its stall at the downtown Los Angeles The Grand Central Market where crowds of diners are willing to stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour to eat eggs, of all things.
Frankly speaking, “Many Filipino-American Chefs are currently working in the kitchens of many fine dining restaurants,” says Cailan. Most restaurants in Los Angeles are Filipino-run either running the front-end or in the kitchen cooking. It just happens to be that way and it has been that way for years especially at the most popular, fine dining restaurants throughout Los Angeles.
The final talk was a Food for Thought Panel curated by DJ Samantha “Sosupersam” Duenas along with a few of the Tastemakers in the Los Angeles Filipino Food Movement i.e. Kristine de la Cruz of Creme Caramel, Lifestyle and Paleo Food Blogger Kathleen Reyes, Rice Bar and A’postrophe owner Chef Charles Olalia, and Chad and Chase Valencia of LASA. The stimulated discussion revolved around the changes of Filipino cuisine in the Los Angeles area.
The panel described how being an active voice of Filipino cuisine in Los Angeles is changing the general perception of Filipino Food. They also applauded the heavy social media activity from Instagram users and bloggers who are helping to spread the news of Filipino-American Chefs and the new interpretation of Filipino food.
The audience laughed along side Duenas when she postulated how there’s no vegetables in Filipino food. The Panel countered by explaining what has worked to make Filipino food more attractive is to creatively reinterpret Filipino dishes into something that seems familiar to a non-Filipino diner and adding to it a familiar Filipino ingredient. This also means adding more vegetable-centered dishes.
The Valencia Brothers explained how their philosophy is to use more seasonal ingredients as it’s readily available in Los Angeles. Introducing more vegetables into their style of Filipino food like the Summer Squash and Bagoong dish (pictured above) is something that they do at their LASA Pop-up dinners to attract non-Filipinos to the Filipino cuisine. Chef Olalia added how better ingredients such as the use of Heirloom Rice from the Philippines is his way to attracting diners to a different interpretation of Filipino food at Rice Bar. Whereas Kristine de la Cruz said that adding a familiar Filipino ingredient like Ube (a Purple Yam used in many Filipino desserts) to her line of desserts at Creme Caramel was her way of connecting to her Filipino roots and her way of contributing to a positive image of the cuisine.
As for the future of Filipino food in Los Angeles, the panel discussed that it’s all about collaboration and supporting each other. Everyone in the Filipino community, Food Bloggers, and today’s Filipino-American chefs all have a part in getting the word out about Filipino food in Los Angeles.
For future events and more about Next Day Better, visit their website at