It is 10 AM in the morning. I was a bit hungover from the night before, celebrating my new career change. I was welcomed with the executive chef yelling at me to get the red cutting boards and prepare the calamari for the evening service. This was the second day of working as a line cook. I had a cushy position as a front of house manager: come in, have a cup of coffee, walk the floor, and make sure my servers were doing alright. Yes, the hours were long and I was not changing lives but I enjoyed it. It was not rocket science. However, there was something more burning in my heart, something I have been yearning for years: it was something to pour my passion into. Food has always been my passion, Food kept me company when I was young and alone. Food comforted me when the first girl I ever loved broke my heart. Food has been a constant reminder that everything was going to be alright when times were bleak. Food is my passion.

Every single job I have had has been a food and beverage job. From Host to Manager, I have been surrounded by food. However, I never cooked it. I never got behind the line. I was scared. Then one day, I said “screw it” and I asked my old executive chef and asked him to put me on his team. To train me into becoming a chef. The chef knew I had no culinary experience whatsoever but he knew my work ethic. He created a position for me and the next day, there I was getting a cutting board and preparing calamari for dinner service.

So what are my goals now? I wanted to be the youngest food and beverage director but now? I want to embrace my Filipino/Hawaiian heritage. I want to be the best. I want to show the world that you can make Filipino/Hawaiian food into a fine dining experience while still capturing the essence of family. Every dish I make from now on will be for my mom, my dad, my sister, and my brothers. For that simple reason: I will not fail.

Advertisements

Dinuguan and Me

There is a dish in the Philippines that involves the simmering of pig intestines, ear, tongue, snout, lungs, and kidneys in rich pig blood. Salt and pepper to taste and throw in a few jalapenos if you enjoy the heat and serve on plain white rice. The dish being described is called dinuguan, a staple in my household and my childhood as well. When I eat the dish, it elicits memories of happiness and comfort however, it also brings out another emotion: hiya in Tagalog or shame in English.

One of the most common “compliments” I have received in the past few years is that I sound so “white” as compared to my other Asian counterparts. If you actually listen closely, there is a hint of a southern drawl in my accent as well. Another comment I receive as well, and this can be taken as either an insult or a compliment, is that I do not act like I am Asian, as if though being Asian immediately puts me in some sort of strange stereotypical role that automatically defines who I am just because of the shape of my eyes. I was raised in a Filipino-American household, however my mother fully embraced the American lifestyle with only the food she cooked and the language she spoke the only traces of a culture that, for most of my life, I have witnessed from the fringes.

For a long time, I was ashamed of my heritage. I was ashamed that I was Filipino and avoided talking about where my parents were from or what part of Asia my blood originated from. If people thought I was Korean or Chinese, I never corrected them and I laughed along with them, but always there was hiya, there was always shame that was heavy in my heart. So how does dinuguan play a role in this? Why is a dish that is made of the unpopular parts of a pig swimming in pig’s blood so important to this story? It gave me the pride I needed to figure out my cultural identity.

When I was young and I had friends over, I always begged my mom to cook burgers or make some cookies but she always refused, stating that they were guests and they will eat the food of the host no matter what. There’s that hiya again. However, now that I am older and wiser, I realized why she was so stalwart about serving the food of her nation to my American friends. It is because she had pride in her culture, and even though she embraced the American style of living, she still managed to show her Filipino identity in the way she cooked. Now that I am in the Food and Beverage Industry, I see the pride in all of my coworkers who come from different cultures in their food. You can tell the story of someone by the food they choose to bring to a potluck, or their history and influences when they add a wonderful item to the menu.

Dinuguan is made from the left over parts that no one wants from a pig. The dish uses every part of the pig so that there is no waste whatsoever. It is usually served as a big batch family style stew where it is placed in the center of the table with a big bowl of white rice next to it. The family gathers around the table, they pray, and they dive in, spoons and forks clanging against the porcelain plates. An atmosphere of content fills the room as the family finishes the stew while talking about school and work. Every Filipino, no matter where they were born or where they were from or where we find them, is family to us and that is something to be proud of. After years of being colonized or ruled by different people, we still maintained our own cultural of identity. I am proud to be Filipino and I am proud to be an American. It just took me a while to figure out that I can be both.

Now when I cook Filipino food for my friends or when I try to introduce Filipino cuisine and culture into my workplace, there is no longer hiya. There is no longer the feeling of shame in my heart, but pride. I hope to one day show everyone the wonders of dinuguan. The French have pâté, the British have black pudding, and when I’m done, the world will know that the Filipinos have dinuguan.

 

 

The Worker

3:00 in the morning, a father of four wonderful children wakes up and begins his day. Five minutes on the dot, you begin to hear the sounds of a coffee machine that has been used too many times go off in the kitchen, with the smell of strong coffee following not too far behind. Then comes the steady squeaking of a rocking chair that has been in the family for over 20 years. Ten minutes later, the water from a hot shower gently hits the walls next to my room followed by a very determined brushing of the teeth. These are the sounds of my father as he gets ready for a job he has been doing for the past 40 years of his life. He rises before the sun, before most of the city really, to push bags and luggage into the underbelly of an airplane. Recently, a set of new sounds have been added to his routine: grunts of pain and age have begun to replace the soft rumblings of the TV and the coffee machine. My father is a hard working man, one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. He is a good man, a good father, and his good nature has rubbed off on all his children.

The funniest thing about my father is that my siblings and I really don’t know much about his past. We would get tidbits when we go to Hawaii to visit family or when he regales us with an anecdote with a lesson behind it, but we really do not know know much. I know that he was raised by a single mother when his father died when he was young. I know that he used to be a forklift driver when he was my age, blowing his hard earned cash on alcohol like what I do now. I also recently learned that he was a bell hop for a few years too before working for a major airline company. However, knowing his past is not that important to me. What is important is that his past has shaped him into the person he is today. I remember when I really started going out and partying in college, my father sat me down and told me that if I was too drunk to drive to just call him and he would pick me up with no questions asked.

For all my life, my father has been supporting our family of six with such humility and determination. There was always food on the table, presents under the Christmas tree, and a vacation to lands never before seen after a hard year of elementary and middle school. Even after having surgery on his stomach due to appendicitis and his shoulder injured, he continues to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to take care of us. On some days he would work from 3:00 am until 9 pm and do it all over again the next day. How does he do it? The answer is simple – it’s for us, his family, his wife and sons and daugther. I only hope to be half the man he is when I reach his age.

One of the things that I have fortunately picked up from my father is his electric charisma. He can make friends with anyone by the simple act of him just being him. I’ve seen it happen before my own eyes, for example we were stuck in an airport in Hong Kong overnight. We had to sleep on their “neo-modern” airport chairs and hopefully get some shut eye. My father saw how uncomfortable we were and he left, with determination on his face, on a quest. The next thing I knew, he was laughing along with a Filipino he met who worked in the airport over night who brought us pillows, blankets, and cots for us. I’m pretty sure we still have those blankets we used from Hong Kong in our house. Now I carry his same charisma around, charming every single person I meet with my devilish smile and rogue-like looks.

My father and mother will be celebrating their marriage of 30 years in a few months. Yes they had their fights but through it all they still love each other. My dad works everyday for us. He works 12 hour shifts and still manages to have enough energy to check on my older sister, to lecture me in starting my 401k, to make sure both of my younger brothers are focused on their studies. I do not have many heroes in my life but my father, Reynaldo Leonardo, is a superhero to all of us because everyday at 3:00 in the morning he wakes up and begins his day. Not for fame nor for glory but for his amazing wife and his amazing four children. Love you, Dad.

 

A0FB429E-A9E1-4B3F-BD71-5649979AE225

 

 

 

Hygge – An Experience

Hygge is a danish word that basically describes the moment of hanging out with friends while having a great meal and drinks. The word hygge is the key in making a normal meal into an amazing one that they will remember for years to come. Anyone can make a good meal, whether it’s a steak or some macaroni and cheese, but what makes a truly memorable experience is the context surrounding that meal. The people around you as you dig in, the ambiance that is around you, and the service that is given during the whole experience. All of those tie into one another to make a truly memorable experience. My job is to provide Hygge to the guests that enter my restaurant or bars. It is to set a scene for the weary traveler who has ventured hours just to attend an eight hour meeting so that they may let go for an hour or two and enjoy the hot meal we provided. One of my favorite things to hear from a happy guest is that we made it feel like a second home to them, that we have become their family away from their family. We make them feel at home, comfortable and at ease. That is why my team has been ranked #1 in terms of food and beverage against 50 other properties for the last year, simply because we do not treat our guests as customers, only providing them a service in exchange for some currency, rather we treat them as guests in our own home. They are just people after all, people who have been traveling for hours, who have been crammed into a small plane next to strangers, people who have ate the crappy airplane food that no one enjoys. We give them Hygge, either with us or with their colleagues. We provide them with hot food, cold beverages, and a sincere attitude to make sure they are happy.

pexels-photo-374845

Basically this but substitute the pug with more alcohol and substitute the attractive guy with my 6/10 personality

Now how can you, the few readers I have, truly experience Hygge? The answer is simple – get off your phones, do not open up your snapchats or instagrams, and enjoy the moment with the people around you. This day and age, it is hard to make plans with friends to get a nice dinner but when you do enjoy the moment shared together. It does not have to be constantly shared with your followers. Enjoy the now or you will regret not being in the moment. Turn your phone off and just have a conversation with the person you’re dining with. No need for that instant gratification you get when someone who is across the country likes your photo, what matters most is if you and your guest is laughing at some memory from the past, smiling at the fact that someone is getting married, or honoring friends long gone. That is what Hygge is all about – coziness, relaxation, and being with people you love.

A Comprehensive Guide to Gin

The very first alcoholic drink I’ve ever had was a Tanqueray and tonic. It went down smooth, with the flavor of quinine hitting the top of my tongue as the burn of the gin went down the back of my throat. Gin is not made for everyone however, mostly due to the strength of the flavor itself. Most of the spirits that we drink, such as vodka or whiskey, are made from corn, wheat, rye, potatoes, etc. Now the alcohol in the gin comes from fermented grain (a common ingredient for vodka) however what makes gin so special is the process of adding different spices and herbs into the fermented grain to give it a particular taste. No gin truly tastes the same which is what makes gin such a fantastic spirit. Different distillers use different combinations of herbs and spices to make a truly unique batch of a wonderful elixir that will get your drunk after three glasses.

I’ll be honest, not many of my friends enjoy the wonders of a good gin. Most of their memories of gin include getting their friends who were 21 to buy a cheap handle of the cheapest gin which eventually led to a night of puke and teenage debauchery. However, we are all adults now so lets be classy and get drunk off of the following gins which will eventually lead to a night of puke and adult debauchery. The following gins are some of my favorites and how and when they should be drank, however if you want a Bombay Sapphire and pineapple juice then shoot get you a Bombay Sapphire and pineapple juice. Just have a good time and drink more gin.

  1. Hendricks Gin

By far, my favorite gin out of all the gin I’ve had due to its simply refreshing taste. What makes Hendricks special is their particular use of cucumber and and bulgarian rose. Hendricks sits at about 44% ABV which means after three of these bad boys you’ll be throwing your best moves at that cute bartender who will look like she’s very interested only because she wants you to tip her all the money in your bank account.

How to Drink It: Over ice with some nice tonic water with a cucumber instead of the normal lime

When to Drink It: When you are in a fancy jazz club. When you are trying to impress a girl or guy getting a degree in English or History. When you see the bottle and think “that’s a cool looking bottle, let me try that”.

2. Roxor Artisan Gin

This is one of the few gins you can drink on the rocks due to its humble taste (and the fact that it does not taste like nail polish remover which is always a plus). Locally made in Texas by a man who drives the newest Tesla, Roxor tastes smooth, goes down smooth, and doesn’t kill you like most gins. This gin takes you to dinner, buys you a nice meal with a couple bottles of mid expensive wines, takes you dancing at the swanky Latin club across the street, charms you with moves taken from Dirty Dancing, invites you up to their apartment, and makes sweet love to you. The best part? Roxor Gin ends up calling you back the next day thanking you for such a wonderful night last night. Try it sometime.

How To Drink It: A negroni, a gimlet, or a gin and tonic. Whatever it takes to get this gin into your body. You won’t regret it like how I regret texting girls I’ve been interested in at 3 o’clock in the morning, drunk, telling them how pretty they are and how I want to smell their hair.

Where To Drink It: When you are trying to be classy but you know you’re a ratchet person in the inside. When the world seems to be crashing down all around you, your friends have abandoned you, and you are trying to find salvation at the bottom of your glass. When you’re at your friend’s birthday party.

3. New Amsterdam Gin

Locally, it’s $14.99 for a 1.75 L of Seagram’s Gin. It’s cheap. It’s tasty and when mixed with a fruity mixer – dangerous. The gin I used to drink when I was a poor college student, this gin brings back a lot of memories, good and mostly bad. This gin really tastes like an orange flavored vodka but it got me to where I needed to be and I liked being different in comparison to the douche who brought a 24 pack of Keystone Light to the party.

How To Drink It: Here’s my go to recipe for when I went to parties with people just turning 21: A double shot of New Amsterdam Gin poured into a shaker that you brought because you’re a bona-fide bartender, ice, any kind of fruity mixer (pineapple, cranberry, apple juice, whatever – just open that can with some flair), shake it a couple of times and pour into the red solo cups placed in front of you by drunk college kids mesmerized by how cool you are, and top it off with a splash of sprite. Give it a fancy name, I called mine “The Balanced Horn” and bam you are the coolest person at the party (at least you think you are but the alcohol keeps assuring you that you are)

Where To Drink It: Kick Backs. Ragers. Darties (Day Parties). Pool Parties. Your 11 AM Biology Class. Your 1 PM History Class. Your 3 PM English Class. When You’re visiting you parents. When you are strapped on cash but still trying to party. When you are in college. When you are in High School. When you are a child.

These are my top three gins that I have enjoyed in my lifetime. I urge all of you to try a gin based drink the next time you go out. It is as simple as ordering a Gin and Tonic and then you are in. If we ever go out for drinks, I’ll buy one for you myself! That is a Leonardo guarantee. Embrace the Juniper and it will reward you.

“Are You Proud of Yourself?”

I was closing the bar the other day and I asked one of the patrons how everything was so far. She said it was good, great even. I did my usual bow, the one that gets the customer to awkwardly bow back so as not to offend, and I was about to turn away to check on the cleanliness of my bartenders. What came next knocked me out of balance: “Are you proud?”. As my friends and coworkers know, I always have a somewhat witty response at the ready, whether it be “Oh you know another day in paradise” – a phrase dripping with sarcasm – or “It’s me. I do the impossible” – cocky, I know but it is true. I responded with a very confused, “excuse me?”. She repeated, “Are you proud? Are you proud of yourself? I can obviously tell that you are proud of your work but are you proud of you?”.

Never in my entire career has anyone ever ask me that, “Are you proud of yourself?” Well am I proud of myself? At the moment yes. I am very proud of myself. I am proud that I am able to support my mom and dad by paying for some of the bills while I build my fortune up for when I move. I am proud that I have been promoted at my current job in less than four months. I am proud that I do my job as if I am the very own CEO of it. But will future Andrew be proud of me now? If there is anyone who knows me best, it’s me and I think I can safely say that future Andrew will look back at me and say, “Shit, Drew you worked hard yes but you sure as hell did not enjoy your 20’s. Late hours, night shifts, and too much gourmet cheese all for what? A title at the end of the line? Your 20’s is supposed to be the time you truly figure out who you are and looking back? You were too cowardly to get out of your safety zone. So look at us now and smell the ashes.” A bit too poetic there at the end but I know the Future Me will be that poetic, I mean it’s me.

I sat down next to the guest and she proceeded to tell me that I need to enjoy my youth while I still can. That right now it may seem like you’re doing a good job but tomorrow, or the very next moment, it can all be over in a flash. Do I want to remember my 20’s as the time that I worked 6 days a week, 11 hours a day? Or do I want to remember all of the close calls I could have had, all the friends I could have made, all the regrets I won’t regret having? I don’t know. I truly do not but that gives me an advantage, I like to think. Not knowing is the first step to knowing something. My life will not change in an instant, maybe it never will, but I have taken the first step by not knowing what will happen. Oh boy I need a drink.

The Immigrant

My mom was an immigrant. She was born and raised in the capital of the Philippines with eight other brothers and sisters in a small cramped house. My mother would always share stories about how they would sometimes beg in the street so that they can afford a few cans of sardines to share for dinner. She met my father when he came to the Philippines and a month later they were in love. I once found their letters of love that were sent back and forth for over a year and my mother snatched an envelope from my hand exclaiming, “Oh! Not this one!”. After a year of waiting, they finally got married and the next thing she knew she found herself in the United States of America, where the only person she knew was her husband. Shortly after that, my older sister was born, then me, and then my two little brothers. My mom was an immigrant but she is the most patriotic out of all of us.

My mom embodied the very spirit of the land she has called home for over 30 years. She was a hard worker, taking care of her four kids with the utmost love and compassion. She did not take any crap from anyone and if someone ever bullied her kids, lord have mercy on their souls. She has always held fast to her beliefs, like a mountain, even if she may be wrong sometimes but in the end she always ends up being right. She taught us what it means to be a good neighbor, to be a good human being, to love one another. I remember seeing her cry when Hilary Clinton lost the recent presidential race and I barely see her cry. The next day, she came up to me and asked me if her response on the Hilary Clinton Facebook page was grammatically correct, “Just stick with what is right and good for everyone in our country and all over the world.”

With this ban that was put into place a few days ago preventing people from various Middle Eastern states from entering the US, a lot of moms are now unable to enter a country built on the hard work of immigrants. A lot of moms are now unable to give their kids a place they can call home. A lot of moms had their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their families shattered with a simple stroke of a pen. One of these moms could have been my mom. So I stand against this ban and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be there at the next protest, standing against tyranny so that a wonderful mother can ask her kids if her response on Facebook is grammatically correct, or how to turn on their computer, or how school was. I actually told my mom that I was planning on going to one of these protests, and she told me two things,”be safe,” and “have you eaten yet?”. I love you, Mom.14495319_10209379184969314_1464651409406266062_n.jpg