Hail to the Pinoy food ambassadors! | Inquirer Business
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Hail to the Pinoy food ambassadors!

The author (fourth from right) breakingbread with Filipino chefs in DMV.

KITCHEN CLUB The author (fourth from right) breaking bread with Filipino chefs in DMV. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

I would just like to shout out to all the Filipino or Filipino-American chefs I met in DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) through Foreign Assistant Secretary JV Chan Gonzaga.

We all know about Chef Cristeta Comerford who has been the executive chef of the White House since 2005, serving since the time of President Clinton in 1995 as assistant chef before becoming head chef under the Bush administration and onwards. Then there is Chef Abie Sincioco-Mateo, executive chef at the residence of the Philippine Ambassador.


We have so many more Filipino food ambassadors worth mentioning, especially this Filipino food month! And if you’re ever in Washington, do give them a try!


Jo-Jo Valenzuela was an award-winning bartender for almost three decades before taking the plunge as a restaurateur. He won in 2015 a Rickey, the most prestigious award for bartenders in Washington, for creating the Rizal, which has gin, guavamansi soda and lime.

“It’s every bartender’s dream to have his own bar,” he shared over dinner with other Filipino chefs at Purple Patch. In February 2019, he made this dream a reality and opened The Game Sports Pub. Word got around that Jojo the bartender had opened his own place. Soon, Jojo found out that his higher mission is to spread the good news of Filipino cuisine, which he does to this day. His restaurant is such a hit, receiving rave reviews from no less than the Washington Post, that he has also opened Tiki on 18th in the same building. His wife Christina has chimed in, making pastry hits such as ube cheesecake.

The Game Sports Bar is even in the running for Best Gathering Spot in the Rammy Awards of NBC Washington. Let’s support our Filipino chefs in Washington and vote for them at nbcwashington.com (search Rammy Awards Best Gathering Spot to vote for The Game Sports Bar/Tiki on 18th).

Jumbo Montes is the big man behind Matthew’s Grill in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They used to be known for their buffet of authentic Filipino cuisine that included sinigang, pancit, dinuguan, egg rolls, even chicharon. But they needed to change their concept in light of the pandemic. Today, they do a la carte dine-in service but thankfully they have found their groove again and Filipino food lovers can now enjoy their authentic Pinoy cooking again, from Friday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Julie Cortes is the Chef de Cuisine of Kaliwa, a Pan-Asian restaurant showcasing Filipino, Korean and Thai cuisine that became a hit, thanks to owner Chef Cathal Armstrong, after whom it is named because he is left-handed. Chef Julie, who was a sous chef at Wildflour before moving to Washington, took over the kitchen when Chef Paolo Dungca left the restaurant, which is gorgeous, by the way, with its basket lamps, red banquettes and cane chairs.

Javier Fernandez is the creator of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the Fall Dining Guide for the Washington Post in 2018, Food and Wine magazine’s Best Place to Eat Filipino Food in Maryland, one of Eatr DC’s 38 Standout Dining Destinations Around Washington in 2020 and 2021, among other raves. Chef Javier has also been invited to cook at the James Beard House for a regional spotlight featuring the best of Washington.


“I really like to promote Filipino cuisine one dish at a time,” he says. And it’s true. He has just opened Lapu Lapu, where he is serving Filipino sandwiches using pan de sal by Gwenie’s Pastries, the bakery of his mom and sister. The sandwiches showcase Filipino hits such as longganisa and even bistek with fried eggs. He named it Lapu Lapu to honor the first national hero of the Philippines.

Toby Bantug is the creator of Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream, which showcases Filipino flavors such as macapuno and langka. He is actually an art graduate from the University of Maryland but learned to make ice cream through a short course and started making Filipino ice cream from his uncle’s garage to sell at the Independence Day Parade. When he and his wife were looking for a house, they saw an ice cream shop for sale and took a chance. They have been serving Filipino ice cream for 15 years now and are about to open their third shop.

Audrey Valerio is a pastry chef who used to work at Trump Hotel. Come the pandemic, she started working from home and launched @dessertsbyaudrey. She makes gorgeous, intricate cakes for special occasions like weddings and special events. “I do enjoy making Filipino flavors,” she shares. She has ube, mango, pandan and macapuno cakes, which are all a hit!

Jerome Grant, a nominee of the prestigious James Beard award, is opening Mahal BBQ, a barbecue place, in less than two weeks at The Square in Washington. His objective is to bring American-style barbecue with Filipino flavors to more people. Of this project, he writes, “Mahal is the legacy that I want to leave for my family, in the city that I am proud to call my home. It is fun and casual, but made with lots of love and time.” It’s worth a trip “for a taste of this slow smoked goodness with tasty sauces!”

Finally, there’s Patrice Cleary of Purple Patch, whom I wrote about last week. This gorgeous half-Pinay is not only churning out the classic adobo and pancit from her kitchen, but also telling people about sauces like Mang Tomas and Filipino liquor like Tanduay through her resto displays. Let’s just call her Filipino Food Ambassador Patrice Cleary!

These are just some of the chefs at the forefront of the campaign to love Filipino cuisine. Their joy for our flavors is truly infectious and their commitment to Philippine cuisine is so strong! I hope that Filipino chefs around the world can be inspired by their stories to also be our culinary heroes the world over!

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Happy Filipino Food Month! INQ

TAGS: ambassador, chefs, Filipino, first class, food, Sunday Biz

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