Every Thanksgiving, Dale Talde and his family would sit down to a Filipino feast of stewed oxtails, and for the sake of American convention, “a shitty, pale turkey no one ate,” recounts the Top Chef star behind the trifecta of Talde restaurants in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and, most recently, Miami.
“Sometimes we’d go through dinner with the turkey still in the bag because we all knew no one was going to eat it. It was only when we were through with the meal that we’d chop it up and give the leftovers to everyone so they could make sandwiches for the next day.”
Such Filipino-American quandaries defined Talde’s Chicago upbringing, and today inform his brash culinary vision. At his eponymously named restaurants—which he and partners David Massoni and John Bush run along with the Brooklyn neighborhood joints Thistle Hill Tavern and Pork Slope—diners are introduced to unexpected mash-up flavors in dishes like yuzu guacamole and Korean fried chicken with spicy kimchi yogurt.
“I was a checkout kid at a grocery store in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. When you see the Indian families grab shitloads of butter, coriander, and chiles, but no meat, and the Mexican [families] come in for pork shoulder and tubs of this thing called masa, you have curiosity.”
Talde addresses this cultural duality in depth in his recently released cookbook Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn. “I didn’t want to write a book. Everyone who works in publishing lives in Park Slope and I was approached numerous times to do one. I was always like, get the fuck out of my face,” he recalls. This time, however, he agreed to a meeting (“where the Manresa cookbook was on display. It’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It was like, what am I doing here?”) and a contract. Now his hefty fan base has access to recipes for the likes of sausage and egg cheese fried rice and tater tots with Sriracha ketchup, interspersed with childhood reflections.
Talde’s cooking might be full of whimsy, but his pedigree is rather serious. After the Culinary Institute of America, he returned to his hometown to work with ace chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Shawn McClain, and Carrie Nahabedian before heading back to New York to join the Stephen Starr juggernaut, first at Morimoto and then Buddakan.
But it’s Talde’s early food memories, whether a forbidden trip to Wendy’s, or seeing the seeds his mother smuggled in from Asia sprout in the garden, that cemented his interest about life in the kitchen. “When your mom is one of nine sisters and they mostly all live nearby and have two to three children, there’s always an occasion to eat and wonder why a certain person makes one particular dish and how they became so good at it,” he explains. “I was also a checkout kid at a grocery store in an ethnically diverse neighborhood—Indian, Mexican, Polish, Russian, and Korean. When you see the Indian families grab shitloads of butter, coriander, and chiles but no meat, and the Mexican [families] come in for pork shoulder and tubs of this thing called masa, you have curiosity.”
From a rebellious batch of apple pancakes, to his dad’s no-frills Filipino sardine dinners, here are ten dishes that have helped Talde create a distinctive, modern-day brand of fusion cuisine.
In our house it wasn’t a meal unless there was rice. Straight-up white rice in a rice cooker was the first thing I learned how to make. My mom worked nights and my father worked very long 12-hour shifts. When my mom left early, sometimes she’d say, ‘Your dad is coming home late. Make him rice.’ One of the luxuries of living in the States is not having to settle for day-old rice. My father earned the fresh version, so when he came home there would be steamed white rice waiting for him. If I fucked it up, I was out. If my sister made it and it was too watery or she forgot to make it hot enough, I wasn’t waiting around to see what happened. (Photo: Flickr/Charles Haynes)
Pork Blood Stew
This is a pork blood version of adobo, the national dish of the Philippines. It’s made with pork shoulder and ears, livers, and other organs—all the nasty bits cooked down with chile, vinegar, bay leaf, and onion. It’s finished with pig blood so it almost turns black. As a kid my parents would call it chocolate meat, but I knew that was bullshit. There was no fucking chocolate in it, but I didn’t care; I liked it. My cousins wouldn’t touch it, though. It’s one of those things I don’t have the courage to muster up and make myself, but I will. (Photo: Flickr/Shubert Ciencia)
Sea Bass at Vong
This dish had a hard-core influence on me. The pan-seared black bass with vegetables and sweet and sour mushroom broth is a staple at Jean-Georges restaurants. Sometimes he calls it brown butter-mushroom vinaigrette. The recipe was such a foreign concept to me; I had never seen anything like it before. It’s basically button mushrooms cooked with lime juice, honey, soy sauce, and equal parts brown butter. When you’re in culinary school you learn to brown the butter and get it nice and toasted, but when you cook it all the way down and pull out milk solids it’s a deep brown, rich butter. I was talking to one of my chef friends from Chicago at my wedding and it was like, ‘Dude, remember that dish? We folded in eight pounds of butter.’ That sauce is the best ever. (Photo: jean-georges.com)
Pan-Seared Squab at NAHA
It was a long-time joke at NAHA as to how many descriptions Carrie could put on the menu for one dish, like Pleasant Valley Hill squab with Madagascar vanilla-infused Wisconsin cranberries with forager black trumpet mushrooms. There were like 58 words at one point to describe a dish, and her food is very simple. Overall it was just such a different way of cooking for me. Roasting duck carcasses for x amount of time was the opposite of the Asian food I had dabbled in. This squab dish, with poached cranberries, beautiful mache, a potato latke, and a fucking lobe of foie gras, is how I learned about the integrity of ingredients. It’s also how I learned how to baste the shit out of things. Some of the most decadent cooking I’ve ever done, but also some of the most fantastic, was at NAHA. That place was also where I met a farmer delivering food for the first time. (Photo: Facebook/NAHA)
Branzino at Talde
The whole branzino at Talde is inspired a bit by my mother and a bit by Southeast Asia. It 100 percent embodies what we do. It’s not a pretentious dish; it’s wrapped in banana leaf like you see all over Asia, but hopefully we’re doing it well, with mustard seeds, garlic, ginger, chile, dill, basil, and cilantro. The moo shoo pancakes are inspired from my time at Buddakan. I would get hungry and not want fried rice, so I would cut off a piece of fish and add tomato relish and make tacos out of them. (Photo: Anne Massoni)
I wasn’t allowed to eat fast food. The McDonald’s cheeseburger sparked my love for the unattainable. It was the white-haired girls in high school for me. I’d be out playing ball with my friends all in the same boat, and we’d be hungry and decide to get McDonald’s with our own money. It’s a shitty burger, but it plays to the idea that it’s something you won’t have again for a very long time. It’s the same now. We were at a casino in Miami last night and saw Popeye’s on the way over. We tried to roll through after, but it was closed. It was crushing. Of all the fast food chains it’s the best. Get yourself an eight-piece and you’ll never go back to KFC. (Photo: Flickr/Mover el Bigote)
Mom’s Steamed Blue Crab
I love all crab, but there’s something about blue that’s amazing. It’s hard to find in Chicago but it was my mom’s favorite. Making it, simply steamed with salt and pepper and served with condiments like vinegar and chile, was a hobby for her. It was such work for little reward. All that delicious fat inside? She’d jam the rice in there and you’d eat that first, then the meat. (Photo: Flickr/Rhea C)
Braised Duck Pappardelle
I used to work at a Chinese restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop, and across the street was an Italian restaurant called Gioco. I liked pizza, but I never really craved red sauce. They made this red wine-braised duck pappardelle and it was the first time I ever had perfectly al dente pasta, finished with Pecorino, a ton of black and white pepper, parsley, and lemon to brighten it up. It was like, where was this all my life? From that point on I was a pasta junkie. (Photo: Flickr/Maggie Hoffman)
One night my mom made a Filipino fish head stew with a tamarind base, and I was like, I’m not eating that. Can you imagine a 10- or 11-year-old talking shit back to his mom who works an overnight shift at a hospital? She was like, ‘Well, if you want to eat something else you better make it yourself.’ So I took out a box of Aunt Jemima mix and on the back there was a recipe for apple pancakes, which sounded cooler than the regular kind. I don’t really remember if they were serviceable; I’m sure they were chewy. But there was the amazement of me making something as a kid. (Photo: Flickr/jeffreyw)
If my mom hadn’t cooked, which was rare, my dad would break out the canned Filipino sardines. They were dirt cheap, but high quality. He would whip them out and dump them into a sofrito, breaking them up a bit. The onions, tomatoes, and garlic were a kind of base and gave the sardines, naturally served over rice, flavor. It was always weird to see my dad standing over the stove. (Photo: brokebitchsandwich.typepad.com)