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.


  1. MBB! What a wonderful way to highlight Dale's Filipino-American background, allowing us to relate to him as such. Thank you for sharing!

  2. You're very welcome, Krystal! And thank you for sharing my blog!