The three Filipino-Americans are credited with the success of Bad Saint, acclaimed by Bon Appetit magazine as the second-best new restaurant in 2016. It all began with a Kickstarter campaign initiated by Villamora and Pimentel, which promised backers “a 25-seat restaurant taking a fresh and seasonal approach to traditional Filipino food…The restaurant will showcase what Filipinos are famous for: food obsession, warm hospitality, and good times.” Chef Cunanan earned his culinary degree from the Art Institute of Washington in 2005, and has worked in some of the DC area’s finest restaurants. In 2012, he set up Tarsier Catering. Villamora was a social justice crusader for a decade before entering the restaurant business. At Bad Saint, she handles front of the house operations. Pimentel’s strength is in graphic design and visual branding, also specializing in restaurant design. He takes charge of the restaurant’s visual identity, from menus to its social media campaigns.
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4-5. Aileen Payumo and Monica Mendiola
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Think kale is over as a food fad? The duo behind Take Root will beg to disagree, as their kale chips continue to find more fans, as they’re now exported to Hong Kong, with Singapore, the Middle East, and more countries in Asia in the pipeline. Both Payumo and Mendiola spent a lot of time in New York, but it was only in Manila where they met and bonded over their love for healthy food, describing themselves as “…two health nuts and former New Yorkers on a mission to provide healthy and delicious snack options to Filipinos.” Take Root won in the best snack food category of the 2017 Katha Awards; besides kale chips, it also makes garlic cauliflower chicaron, trail mix, and bliss balls chewy snacks.
Filipinos who frequent San Francisco’s Bay Area have surely heard of Caabay’s Filipino restaurant, Kainbigan, but after her win on Food Network’s Chopped, she introduced herself to a wider audience. The dishes she presented had a strong Filipino influence (from laing to our barbecue on a stick), and she was pleasantly surprised that the judges enjoyed them. “This is my culture, this is my heritage. I’m Filipino, so you’re going to taste some Filipino,” she told the Asian Journal.
7-8. Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar
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As 2016 drew to a close, virtually everyone who loved food and eating out had Hey Handsome on their list of best new restaurants for the year. Santos and his protégé Vilar are the star chefs in that venture, a collaboration with influential restaurateur Charlie Paw. It’s not Santos’ first taste of success, though, as Your Local, a collaboration with chef Denny Antonino that opened in 2014, has a devoted following and was heralded as one of the “greatest restaurants around the globe” by Condé Nast Traveler not too long ago. Vilar started as a line cook at Your Local, but quickly worked her way up to sous chef. Now, the duo combine their talents on food R&D; everyone’s excited to find out what they’re cooking up next.
The Filipino- American chef burst onto the culinary scene when he joined the cast of Top Chef: Chicago in 2008, followed up by another stint in Top Chef: All Stars in 2010. While many of his dishes draw inspiration from Filipino cuisine, Talde’s the first to admit they’re not the most authentic, as the title of his 2015 book, Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn, declares. With his stable of restaurants on the East Coast (Talde in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Miami; Massoni and Atlantic Social in New York, with a rooftop bar and lounge called The Heights opening soon) Talde is helping get Filipino and other South East Asian cuisines the broader audience they deserve.
This story was originally published in the September 2017 issue of Town&Country.