Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chef Dale Talde and the 10Q

When I first contacted Top Chef Season 4 alum and current Top Chef All Stars Cheftestant Dale Talde for an interview, I had every intention of crafting some flowery article about an accomplished Filipino-American chef-turned-reality-star on the rise.  I wanted to romanticize his fiery outbursts (Dale vs. Michael Chiarello) and culinary highs (the Padma-pleasing halo-halo) but quickly thought better.  Had I elected to go that route, I feel I would have done him a disservice.  After all, anyone who follows Top Chef would have already seen that side of him.  

The truth is, Dale, like many complex and high-functioning people, defies neat compartmentalization.  He hails from a distinctly Filipino upbringing but is a respected chef of New American cuisine.  He comes off as defiant and reactive but is much harder on himself than those around him.  Love him or not, his skill and passion are unmissable which is, in itself, compelling.  Sometimes, what's not fully articulated on a reality show can be a person's intimate history, their most profound sensory experiences, their deep love of family.  That being said, I shall simply post his responses to my questions about identity, memory and maturity.  He did, after all, answer beautifully.

MBB: On your last trip to the Philippines, was there anything you'd never had before 
that made a significant impact on you, food-wise?

DT: On my last trip I remember a Sunday market in Manila. I cant remember which one,
and they gave me a salad of these tiny baby green mangoes - they looked like olives.
They sliced them, pit and all, and added chopped onion, tomato, scallions, shrimp and kalamansi juice - it really changed my life.

MBB: Growing up, did you feel underexposed to your ethnic identity?

 DT: Growing up, I knew I was Filipino, but I had no one in pop culture or in the media I could relate to, so I started to relate to basketball heroes of mine and that then turned me to hip-hop.  I identified with that culture.

MBB: Where in the Philippines are your parents from and what brought them
to America?

DT: My mother is from "Illio-Illio", I know I spelled that wrong, and my Dad is from Negros Occidental. What brought them to America is the health care boom of the 1970's.

MBB: Which values from the Philippine culture do you feel are worth holding on to?

DT: Our culture's sense of family and community. I love that my family is so huge and that we are always expected to get together during holidays.

MBB: How did your visit to the Philippines affect you on a personal level?

DT: When I went home last, I spent time with my dad's side of the family and I don't know them as well as my mothers side. So we all went to dinner and I wanted to hear some gossip on my dad - things like him being mischievous. My aunt stopped and with the most serious face, she
told me how my father was the most giving, generous, hard working person and the best brother anyone could have.  They then told me how my father sent all 7 or 8 of his siblings through school, after my Lolo, his father, passed away very early in his life. I broke down.  And
not that I didn't respect my father before, but I look at him through a different set of eyes now.

MBB: What's your most compelling food memory?  Did it trigger your desire to enter the culinary industry?

DT: Food memory - I love kare-kare during Christmas.  My aunt makes kare-kare and it's my favorite.  It's all I eat during Christmas.  Watching my mother cook everyday is really what spurred my desire to be a chef.
MBB: Elaborate on your calling to become a chef.

DT: I tell people this my true love is basketball, but in high school whenI stopped growing at
5'5, I  knew my dreams of being a pro-basketball player weren't going to happen so I had to pursue other interests, and food is my other love.

MBB: How do you feel the Filipino-American and Filipino communities have
welcomed you?

DT: The Filipino community has given me nothing but love and I just want to thank everybody for all the support and love.  I'm not perfect and sometimes I understand that my behavior during my first season wasn't something I was proud of.  But regardless of the anger, and the bad
language my Filipino community has stood by their kababayan.

MBB: Angelo Sosa said you were big competition for him on Top Chef All
Stars.  What's your response to that?

DT: I know Angelo, we had worked together at the Starr Restaurant Group. We are friends and I'm flattered he said that.  I would have said the same, being put in his shoes.

MBB: What's can we anticipate from you on this All-Star Season?  What can we look forward to on a whole this season?

DT: You anticipate a more mature person, and that maturity shows in my food.  And though Filipino food is my heart and soul, you'll see more range in terms of cuisine.

Last night, DaleTalde won the third Elimination challenge on Top Chef All Stars with a dish that speaks to his skill as a chef of New American Cuisine - Sunny Side-Up Egg Dumpling, Braised Pork Belly and Milk Ramen with Bacon, Beef and Pork.  It is this very display of nuanced talent that makes him someone to follow long after his Top Chef years.  There's an accessible sophistication about him, a polish that enhances the humblest ingredients while paying respect to their very essence, an inherent understanding of what makes food sing.  Clearly, he's come into his own and loves it.  We, meanwhile, will keep watching.

Find out more about Dale on his blog.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We're in Elle Decor!!!

This is not the first time a Filipino concept graced the pages of a western glossy.  Nonetheless, when Elle Decor Magazine featured a handsome side table clad in blue Java lizard skin on page 74 of their October 2010 issue, I was thrilled!  The piece, dubbed "Spoliarium" (a gracious nod to Juan Luna's Behemoth oil painting), is one of the accent tables created by the Philippine design company Celestina Maynila currently selling  at Barneys, New York.  I've been searching everywhere for an isolated photo of the lovely Spoliarium but have come up empty-handed.  I shall, instead, post the cover of the Elle Decor issue wherein it is featured.  If you go to their site, you can actually leaf through the entire issue for free! Remember, the Spoliarium is on page 74!

The Spoliarium is on page 74!!!

Barneys also carries another Celestina accent table called "Katipunan".  The metal legs, resembling twisted tree branches, support a marble tabletop covered in either vibrantly dappled or soothing grey shagreen (stingray leather).
The Katipunan.  Stunning, yes?
The Barneys Version  in grey shagreen!

It is crucial to stress that to be distributed by Barneys, the iconic purveyor of all things tasteful and upscale, is no easy feat. For a company with no known advertising budget or marketing power to have penetrated their hallowed halls is even more impressive.  In truth, very little is known about this company, but what I have unearthed is most intriguing. 

Celestina "Tina" Ocampo, a former fashion model, originally launched a line of evening clutches reminiscent of 1960's "minaudieres" under the Celestina brand.  Boasting superior craftsmanship, graceful construction and a polished interpretation of Southeast Asian natural elements, the purses were soon featured on the "Last Look" page of Vogue magazine, thereby establishing Celestina as a viable fashion brand.
The accessory line has since been sold at exclusive boutiques the world over.  Further, the precious minaudieres have been cradled by celebrities such as Sandra Bullock at red carpet functions.

Sandra Bullock with a Celestina "Patricia" clutch at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (left) and the Celestina "Ebun" clutch at the Academy Awards (right).

Tina's husband, Ricco Ocampo, a consummate multihyphenate, followed shortly after with Celestina Home, a stunning line of artisan-borne home accents and furniture.  Calling upon skilled craftsmen spanning Thailand, Laos and the Philippines, Ocampo sought to alchemize materials indigenous to Southeast Asia into stylish yet functional objects.  Modern in their silhouettes yet evocative of organic forms, many of the pieces play in a space of tasteful whimsy and quiet intelligence. The upscale Chicago home boutique, Lille, carries a wider selection of Celestina's pieces, many of which are dreamlike, even at some points Dali-esque.  The fact that the Ocampos christened each item after a Philippine historical figure, dynasty or national artwork further adds to the charm of the line. 

My personal favorite is the Gabriela Silang - a slanted chair, utilitarian in form, cushioned with mongolian lamb fleece.  The tension of the piece excites me no end!  With such delightful designs, it would be a treat to see what Celestina has in store.  Pun intended.

Celestina's Gabriela Silang Chair

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Introvoys: New Beginnings - Expecting the Expected

Though I've lived in America far longer than I have the Philippines, I still foster affection for the music of the homeland known as OPM (Original Pilipino Music). So when Introvoys (a mainstay band on the Filipino New Wave/Alternarock scene) released an anthology album, feelings of nostalgia and curiousity got the better of me. I suddenly remembered being fourteen years old, staring out a car window at the shanties of Commonwealth Avenue while "Line to Heaven" wafted over the airwaves. The memory was motivation enough to purchase the album.

After a good long listen, I found myself thinking about how to fairly review the work of group for which I fostered a degree of affection. After all, following the evolution of a band can in many ways prove fascinating. Sometimes clear parallel lines link a group's songs to their musical influences. In other instances, flashes of original brilliance laser through. Both cases apply with Introvoys' album "New Beginnings"-a collective I can best describe as endearingly frustrating. While I very much enjoyed many of the tracks, I all too easily identified the ghosts of inspiration who brought many of these songs into being.  I'll address that subject a paragraph or two down from here, but we really have to start from the top.

Immediately noticeable was the much improved sound quality. Characterisically, songs recorded in the Philippines have an unnervingly muffled, unbalanced sound which I conclude is due to sub-par studio equipment. Many of these re-recorded tracks, by contrast, were impressively crisp. Effectively layered instrumentals held hands beautifully with the bell-clear vocals, enabling me to genuinely appreciate a good portion of the work. From a cultural standpoint, however, I did encounter problems with some songs. These issues primarily have to do with the manner in which identity and, in particular, language manifest themselves in the finished album.

Someone once fittingly said, "To be fluent in two languages is to be in posession of two imaginations." It's not surprising, then, that a bilingual band falls prey to a split perspective. The pitfall of having such a lush resource from which to draw ideas is finding a cohesive voice that lends consistency to the songs regardless of the language in which they are sung. While listening to the eighteen tracks, I detected an ease and flow in the Tagalog songs noticeably absent in the English ones. A case in point is "Just A Dream,"a lovely enough composition. The guitar solo is breezy and exuberant and the drumwork is fantastic, but what's off-putting is the singers' faulty British accent which I can only conclude is a washover from the Anglophilic wave which swept the Philippines in the eighties. To be overly referential of other more famous artists' works is tiresome and a common crime in the Filipino music scene and at times, I don't hear Introvoys when I really want to.  On the English tracks, I hear a little Green Day, a little Counting Crows, a little Cure - which hardly comprises a proper retrospective for a band of this caliber. If an OPM group produces songs in English, I would very much like to hear a sound as distinct as what's in the Tagalog tracks. I mean, come on!  Where's the "O" in OPM? 

On the flipside (pun intended!), I found "Maynila" to be their best work. It charmingly extolls the fleshy pleasures of the capital city with a swagger and conviction that is endearing in its chauvinism. On this track, the lead singer sounds assured and celebratory. A loose translation of the refrain states, "In Manila, you will find the lovely ladies!" Perhaps the confidence comes from singing about not just what one likes but what one knows and IS. Manila seeps into the very marrow of its residents. The class tensions, cultural inundations, pollution, corruption, heat, sex, and burgeoning metropolitan skyline fuse into a sort of heady chimera that courts the collective consciousness of those who live in or explore the capital city. In the simplest of ways, the men of Introvoys suceeded in creating a song that is sharply evocative of a place held dear. The beer serenade, the anthem to the good old boys, the unabashed love of a city of startling contrasts all come together cleverly in "Maynila" and I'll be the first to applaud them for it.

Admittedly, I'm neither musician nor musical expert. My assessments are based on how songs speak to me, which may not be consistent with the intentions of whoever I'm listening to. Still, coming from a place of pure opinion, I found the album to be revived, though not necessarily inspired. While I understand and appreciate the pop aspect of  Introvoys' new musical efforts, I can't help but wonder if originality was a dream deferred because of too much respect paid to the band's varied musical inspirations. While in America, most people aspire to escape the shadows of their parents, the Philippine culture sees no problem with the tendency to bask in glories handed down from generations past. The tradition of being introduced as "Ang anak ni ..." (translation: "The son/daughter of...") still holds power in the Filipino social structure so perhaps it is of no surprise that our artists all too easily reference their musical parents.

In an effort to rattle the cage, I want to say that I'm a little sick of the deja vu which plagues the contemporary Filipino music scene. We have a lot to write and sing about and it could all go to waste because of the willingness to be seduced by artists we think are better than we are. I demand less karaoke, more soulful creation. And to Introvoys, while I say bravo to your undeniable and all too enviable talent, perhaps it's time to spread your very capable wings and soar towards an identity more deeply explored.  The outcome could be amazing.