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Off the menu

Filipino chefs cook at top L.A. restaurants, but not the dishes they make at home.

February 25, 2010|Amy Scattergood

"Gary tossed around the idea of doing molecular gastronomy Filipino food," Guerrero says, although he admits that neither chef ever seriously considered it.

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Comfort food

Although Menes has never cooked Filipino food professionally, he would cook it in restaurant kitchens when he got homesick. At the French Laundry, he'd make his mother's nilaga, a traditional beef stew, for staff meals. That he had to bring the celery for the dish from home -- Thomas Keller rarely uses it in his kitchens -- seems symbolic.

At Church & State bistro, the Filipino influence may not be on the menu, but it's palpable once you talk to the staff.

Executive chef Walter Manzke and his wife, Marge, frequently visit the islands where she grew up. Marge Manzke, who was the pastry chef at Bastide during her husband's tenure there as executive chef, cooked previously at Patina and Melisse. "Every time I cooked staff meals, I'd try and do something. I'd make lumpia at Melisse."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, February 27, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Filipino food: In Thursday's Food section, a caption accompanying an article about Filipino home cooking referred to a dish as Mom's nigala. The beef stew dish is called Mom's nilaga.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, March 04, 2010 Home Edition Food Part E Page 4 Food Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Filipino food: In the Feb. 25 Food section, a caption accompanying an article about Filipino home cooking referred to a dish as Mom's nigala. The beef stew dish is called Mom's nilaga.

Like Menes, Manzke says she demarcates the food of home from the food on the menu at the restaurants where she's worked. "Being classically trained, I just kind of separate it."

Mary Jo Gore, a Filipino chef instructor at the Cordon Bleu school in Pasadena and a friend of the Manzkes from Patina, says part of the problem is aesthetic. Filipino food, she says, is comfort food. "Visually, it's not very appealing. It's stewed and brown and oily and fried."

Gore thinks part of the assimilation problem is that many Filipino restaurants in this country are either mom-and-pop places (called turo-turo or "point-point" restaurants, because you often just point at the buffet-style food) or fast food (think Jollibee). "I don't understand why it can't go beyond fast food. Filipino food is not fast food. It takes time to cook tripe and oxtail."

Church & State sous chef Allen Buhay, who is Filipino and who trained at Jean Georges in New York after culinary school, says that he purposely arranged a stage at Yi Cuisine when he was in school. "I was Googling [for Filipino restaurants]. I was like, 'How is there nothing? How has no one done it yet?' "

Maybe it is simply a question of the time it takes to move a cuisine from family table to restaurant family meal to the mainstream for it to get beyond the belief system of home, where no one cooks the kare kare and sinigang and, yes, that 40-pound whole roasted suckling pig, as well as your mother or grandmother does. Also, if there are 7,000 recipes for adobo, then only one of them is the one you grew up with.

"Why hasn't Filipino food assimilated?" asks Aglibot rhetorically. "Because it's still assimilating."

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food@latimes.com

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Auntie Fe's bichu-bichu

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: This makes about 2 dozen fritters

Note: Adapted from Crisi Echiverri of Providence. Mochiko rice flour and macapuno coconut can be found at Filipino and Asian markets. Macapuno coconut is shreds of coconut in sugar syrup found in jars.

2 cups mochiko rice flour, more if needed

1 cup coconut milk, divided

1/2 cup macapuno coconut (shredded)

1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts

Canola oil for frying

1/2 cup brown sugar, sifted to remove any lumps

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, and half of the coconut milk and mix well. Add the macapuno and toasted walnuts. Slowly add the rest of the coconut milk, little by little, until a dough is formed. You may not have to use all the coconut milk. If the dough is too sticky, add more rice flour. The dough should be slightly sticky.

2. Dust your hands lightly with rice flour and break off small pieces of the dough, a generous tablespoon in size. Roll the dough between your palms to form little patties. Place the patties on wax or parchment paper.

3. In a large, heavy frying pan, heat a half-inch of oil over medium-high heat. Test the oil by gently dropping a small piece of dough into the pan. If the dough sizzles gently, the oil is ready. Place the dough patties in the pan and fry until golden brown, being careful not to crowd the pan, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Place the fritters on paper towels to drain and keep them in a warm place. Repeat until all the fritters are cooked.

4. In a large saute pan, combine the brown sugar and water. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup begins to very slightly thicken into caramel, about 1 minute. Add the fritters to the saute pan while they are still warm and toss to coat with the caramel. Serve immediately, ideally right out of the pan.

Each fritter: 162 calories; 2 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 2 mg. sodium.

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Chicken adobo

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from Andre Guerrero of Marche, Boho and the Oinkster. Guerrero serves this with steamed jasmine rice.

1 (3 1/2 pound) whole chicken

12 whole cloves garlic

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