Cloud,” the jean-clad,
salt-and-pepper-haired man said as he
entered our house. “How are you? I’m Tony.”
“Hey, my man!” I said, trying to sound cool,
but I was actually very nervous about
meeting this legendary culinary figure in
the flesh — and rather surprised that he
knew how to pronounce my name.
There is something about Anthony Bourdain
that makes you like him right away! Maybe
it’s because you know right away that this
celebrity chef will eat anything that’s put
in front of him.
As I led him and his crew toward the silong
(open ground floor), I started giving them a
brief history of our house, called “Bale
Dutung” or “Wooden House.”
My wife Mary Ann and I were introduced to
each of the five crew members. I had been
wanting badly to put a face to the name
Jared Andrukanis, segment producer, with
whom I had been corresponding via e-mail
since September 11, when I received the
first of many letters that culminated in
this October 23 visit. Jared turned out to
be as amiable in person as he sounded in his
letters and our phone conversations.
After the introductions and pleasantries, I
gave them a tour of the house as I normally
do when guests see it for the first time.
Alex, the lady director, was going to choose
the spots for the interview and cooking.
There was the “dirty kitchen, which most
Filipino homes have,” I explained, “where
all the dirty prep (such as gutting the
fish, butchering) is done.” My dirty kitchen
was designed after a traditional kusina of
an ancestral house, complete with a
wood-burning kalan (stove), orno (dome
oven), and a wood-slatted banggerahan (open
window sill) where all the dishes and
utensils are air-dried after washing. I
think Alex and her cameraman Todd liked this
Next were the deck and the main living
quarters upstairs. This is where my kitchen
is located. Quite an unusual house, you
might say, as it has four kitchens. This is
my domain and nobody else is allowed to
touch the knives and pans here. (If you care
to know about the other two kitchens — one
is “institutional,” with stainless equipment
for heavy cooking for big parties, the other
is a personal kitchen in the family room
equipped with just a microwave for reheating
food and popping corn.)
“Nice kitchen,” said Tony. But because of
its modern look with the stainless ref,
stove and gadgets, Alex vetoed it right
away. “It could be anywhere in the world,”
she pointed out. So they settled on the
rustic one downstairs and it was there where
they would later capture on film the
sizzling sounds of the frying and babbling
boil of the dishes I prepared.
From the many tables in the silong dining
area, the deck table was chosen as the
setting for the dinner interview between
Tony and me. With an overhead vine canopy
and white ropes used for the railing, the
deck has an open feel to it that allows for
natural lighting and breeze, and also a view
of the garden below.
By the time the segment was actually shot,
night had fallen and several incandescent
bulbs had to be set up just above the table.
Mary Ann and Rich Alindogan joined us to
assist. (Rich is a Fil-Am member of the
crew, originally from Pasay City, who
arrived a week earlier to coordinate the
shoot and inspect the locations.)
The first thing Tony asked me over dinner
was how strong Mexican influence is in
Filipino cuisine. Apparently, he knew of the
Manila-Acapulco Galleons and how Spain ruled
us for more 300 years (the viceroy of Mexico
was directly managing the affairs of the
Philippines during that period).
“The most popular foreign food in America is
Mexican, not Italian or Chinese,” he said.
“I’ve been to Mexico several times, and I
see a lot of its local color here. Do you
still cook and eat traditional dishes at
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “We would always look
for our comfort foods. I’ve never heard
anyone crave for fusion cuisine.”
“But you have had fusion food from the
beginning!” he remarked, honestly surprising
me. He was, of course, referring to the
Chinese, Spanish and Mexican influences that
have been simmering for centuries in our
“It’s an asset that you have a wide variety
and different influences from your years of
colonization,” he said, adding that we could
put that to good use in marketing our
cuisine to the world.
Tony liked the fact that our Filipino
cuisine is the only one that has both
Chinese and Mexican influences. “Those are
two great cuisines. Authentic is a word that
has lost its meaning. What is authentic
now?” he said.
The table was set with all the different
sawsawan placed on one end. These, I
explained to him, allows the diner to
individualize his food by adjusting its
flavor according to his taste, and that no
offense is meant to the chef’s cooking. I
served him an oxtail dish, which I ate with
my hands mainly to show him how one’s
fingers get to stick together and form a
“duck web” from the gelatin of the oxtail
skin. “A true measure that the dish is
cooked right,” I explained.
Tony said he has been trying to learn how to
eat with his hands, but until now he’s still
very bad at it. “Not even the Indian way.”
He likes his food hot, so Mary Ann right
away gave him Claude’9 XO chili sauce from
among the sawsawan on the table.
“It’s a very cultural thing” I said,
recounting the brouhaha over this
Filipino-Canadian boy punished in school for
insisting on eating with a spoon and a fork,
the way he was brought up by his Filipino
mother (he was ordered to eat the Canadian
way — using a fork and a knife by the lunch
monitor and he refused to do so).
“I think if a kid goes to a very expensive
private school in America, and over lunch in
the school canteen he eats with his hands,
he will be the coolest kid in the whole
school,” Tony said.
How did this celebrity chef eat at Bale
Dutung? He savored and relished all the
dishes served, including the bangus eyes and
belly. (I’m not telling what the other
dishes were so as not to preempt the show.
Consider this just a teaser).
After the shoot, Mary Ann offered him the
daybed to get some rest. After the crew had
packed up, we led them down the silong for
their dinner, with two members not having
had a decent meal for the past 12 hours
because of their packed schedule. They were
joined by my sangkatutak family members.
Tony came down after about 30 minutes and
signed books and posed for photos with them.
The following day, I took him to two
holes-in-the-wall. You could tell that he
truly enjoyed all the food: he ate with so
much gusto, with no reservations, and it was
quite obvious it wasn’t just for the
camera’s sake. Sinisimot niyang lahat,
hanggang buto. Honestly, this kind of
appreciation and enthusiasm cannot be faked
(it takes one matakaw foodie to know one).
“Man, how do you keep fit?” I asked with
“I’m not as fit as you think I am” was his
reply. “I’m giving myself another two years
of this traveling (10 months of the year)
and eating. I’ll probably hie off to some
Caribbean island with a beer belly so low
it’ll touch the ground.”
“So, what defines Filipino cuisine,
Pampangan in particular?” he asked.
“It’s the linamnam,” I said, “which has no
direct translation in English. It’s beyond
the words ‘delicious, flavorful, savory.’
The Japanese call it umami, who claim to
have discovered this fifth taste 100 years
ago. But our grandmothers knew it all along
and we call it malinamnam.”
“Can you please say the word again?” Tony
After repeating it, he said: “Amazing, but
that sounds like what my year-and-a-half-old
daughter says whenever she likes what she’s
eating. She says ‘nam-nam.’ Could that be
from her Filipina nanny?” he asked.
“Definitely,” I said, “and one day, all
these kids raised by Filipina nannies all
over the world will be the future leaders in
their respective countries and would have
pansit, adobo and sinigang in their food
absolutely” Tony agreed.
Before bidding our farewells, I presented
him a copy of my book Food Tour and the
newly launched Kulinarya — A Guidebook to
Philippine Cuisine. Leafing through
Kulinarya’s pages, he exclaimed: “This is a
great cookbook, great food styling! I’ll
definitely read these two once I get settled
back home. I can’t thank you both enough.”
“You’re most welcome for second helpings”
was my parting shot.
Abangan. Make a reservation for its airing
soon on the Travel and Living Channel.