CHEFS | Carlo LaMagna, Twisted Filipino: How I Helped Portland Embrace Filipino Food

This post originally appeared on VICE Munchies.

When I first added crispy pata and lumpia to the menu at Clyde Common, everyone was like, “What is that?” Even the Filipinos were like, “Who is back there in the kitchen adding deep fried pig’s foot to the restaurant attached to the Ace Hotel?”

At first, I had Filipino people come up to me and say, “That’s not crispy pata!” in Tagalog—to which I would just polite respond, “I’m sorry that’s not the crispy pata that you know, but I assure you that it is.” The thing is that a lot of people are used to eating undercooked or overcooked, shredded, almost-dusty crispy pata, and just because I sous vide mine to maintain the integrity of the pork does not mean that it is not the same concept. I also serve mine with spaetzle and pickles, which was an ode to my experiences as a trained chef. This approach of twisting traditional Filipino dishes was the basis for my pop-up dinner series, Twisted Filipino.

Carlo LaMagna Twisted Filipino
Chef Carlo LaMagna

When I explain to non-Filipino people what Filipino food is, the first thing I tell them is that it’s nothing like Thai food or Vietnamese food, since those two are the most dominant Asian cuisines in Portland, and I want to shut down that expectation right away. After that, I follow up with the fact that the Philippines is a melting pot just like the US, made up of many different cultures.

We were occupied by Spain. Then there was the spice trade. Then there were Chinese, Malaysians, Japanese, and American influences coming in, so we have a huge flavor palette to pull from. We have a lot of the ingredients that you might be familiar with—curries, the use of coconut, fish sauce, soy sauce—and we adapted them. For the most part, people are excited and the responses have been really positive.

I moved to Portland, Oregon three years ago for this job as the executive chef for Clyde Common, and I when I first got here, I was like, Where are all of the Filipinos at? Where can I get my Filipino food fix?

Carlo LaMagna Twisted Filipino
Beef rib with celery beer jam

There were a few food carts and one restaurant in the greater Portland area, but that was about it. I got into food late in the game. I’d barely only heard the term “culinary” when I was 19 years old, but I started reading a lot of books, watching all these shows, and then graduated from the CIA in New York.

I was born in the Philippines, but my parents moved to Detroit and I came to the US as a baby. I was an outcast growing up. I lived in a predominantly white community and I was one of only two people of color in my neighborhood. I didn’t know who to identify with because I was what Filipinos would call an amboy, which means an American-raised Filipino who doesn’t speak the language. I was an outcast to my own country, and here, too. I was confused for a long time. Then, I eventually learned that I’m an accumulation of my experiences and my own person. Throughout this journey of finding myself, Filipino food has always been my compass. It has always been my guide.

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