Kickstarting our series of Chun Dining Experiences is none other than Ryan Foo, our culinary consultant/studio manager/assistant food stylist (yes he’s a jack of all trades) and you’ve probably seen him here and there on our Instagram Stories. For our inaugural dining session, Ryan takes us to his Filipino roots with the Kamayan (Tagalog for ‘with hands’), a traditional communal feast prepared and enjoyed by families and sometimes the entire village. The Kamayan comprises a steaming line of rice plated on a long row of banana leaves, piled high with accompanying side dishes, each carrying their own array of spices and seasonings, paired with dipping sauces to complement and enhance the flavours. The essence of camaraderie is further enhanced as guests eat together with the hands. All in all, the various dishes will tantalise your taste buds, and is in its very essence a feast to behold!
We speak to Ryan to find out more about his cooking philosophy and how his Filipino heritage has influenced his personal style.
Hi Ryan, can you tell us more about your journey as a chef?
My interest in cooking and love for food was sparked at a young age of 4. I was always borrowing and reading cookbooks from libraries and even asked for one for my 10th birthday! Like everyone else, I considered my options growing up but it ultimately led me back to my love for food. Hence, I took a diploma in Culinary Management which is half culinary-focused and half business-focused (as a plan B). I ended up working in all sorts of positions in food establishments to learn and acquire different skills and culinary knowledge from bistros to fine dining restaurants and to being front-of-house staff.
What is your cooking philosophy?
I believe that understanding tradition is important but we shouldn’t be close-minded to improving and adapting. We should try everything twice even if it seems like a bad idea. First bite is to try, second is to make sure you actually hate/love it.
How has your maternal Filipino roots shaped your cooking journey?
When I started my culinary journey, I didn’t have a unique identity/specialty per se- People would often ask me “What’s my specialty or what cuisine do I like to cook?” I wasn’t completely sure how to reply them. Back then, my ‘favourite dish’ was probably whichever cuisine the restaurant I was working on at the time.
I ate a lot of Filipino food growing up but it didn’t occur to me that it was such an unheard of cuisine to most. One day, I decided to bring my friends to try out Filipino food for the first time at one of my go-to spots, a small cafeteria at Lucky Plaza. They absolutely loved it and till this day, we still keep going back!
It was then it clicked that this Filipino cuisine is so underrated and more people should know about. I started researching and learning about the different dishes and adapted them a little so people can better appreciate it as the flavours can be quite intense/in-your-face. Hence, I ended up adding Filipino flavours to more familiar foods and since then, these flavours have been injected into my cooking on a regular basis.
Speaking of flavours, every cuisine has a distinct characteristic (ie. Vietnamese/Thai food with fish sauce, Japanese food with Mirin/Bonito), what would you say is the distinguishing flavour of Filipino food?
It differs from where you’re from in the Philippines. People from Bicol (southeast part of Luzon island). My mom is from Pampanga (central Luzon region) and they use a lot more acidic/citrus components in their dishes or dipping sauces, like Calamansi and Cane Vinegar. Overall I feel like Kapampangan food (from Pampanga) is generally very bold in flavours with prevalent profiles of acidity, sweetness, spiciness and saltiness.
Do you cook with your mum and did she teach you to cook these dishes?
Everyone has to start somewhere, and mine started in the kitchen with my mum. I used to watch her cook when I was young and I moved up into learning some of her recipes (this scored me an ‘A’ in home economics). These days I cook with her from time to time especially the traditional dishes or rather the dishes she grew up eating.
What would you say is your favourite Filipino dish? ie. if there was one comfort food you could choose…
I absolutely love Dinuguan, a savoury stew of pork offal and/or meat simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili, and vinegar. Don’t let the idea and dark appearance of the dish freak you out, it’s actually really good! (Just think chocolate sauce)
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find this dish in Singapore because of strict AVA rules.
Food publications in the US have forecasted that Filipino cuisine could be the next big thing, do you think there is such a chance for Filipino cuisine to trend in Singapore?
100%. I can see a gradual rise in interest of Filipino cuisine now especially with more eateries opening up and actually flourishing, like the successful Iskina Cebu in Timbre+ and Gerry’s in Cuppage Road.
Are you excited to host the first Chun Dining Experience?
Of course! I’m always happy to introduce new food to others, especially if it’s Filipino food since I get to share some of my culture with you guys!
Ryan will be hosting the Kamayan Feast on Friday, 25th May 7.00pm in our studio. Tickets are at $50/pax and $160 for a group of 4.