Photo by Stephanie Breijo
A flight to the Philippines on April 23 will cost you a cool $600-plus, but fortunately for all of us, the flavor of the islands is coming to Richmond that night, and it'll only set you back a fraction of the cost. Chef Mike Ledesma, corporate executive chef of Richmond Restaurant Group and the former executive chef of Patina, is launching his Passport Pop-Up series that Sunday evening, showcasing his family recipes and the food he's always wanted to bring to Richmond's restaurant scene.
“I’ve been trying to sell lumpia in Richmond for the last five years," he says. "Now, I think it finally has a little bit of traction.” The chef only showcased his familial cuisine with lumpia, or Filipino egg rolls, at special events such as Broad Appetit, or on the menu of Patina. Beyond that, he's never put Filipino food in front of guests, until now.
“It represents my heritage, growing up with my family and just getting together and eating good food. Also, every family has their variation of food," says Ledesma, who'll be primarily using recipes from his grandmother and his father. "When we studied cultural awareness in college, cuisine was a big thing. I think that’s what got me into cooking: When I went to culinary school and saw all these techniques it was like, ‘Oh, my grandmother does that!’ It was just full circle. It’s just going to be a reflection of the past.”
The eight-to-12-course feast — the first of what Ledesma plans to be a monthly series — will include traditional Filipino food that's relatively simple in technique but long in cook time, and big in flavor. Expect lumpia with locally raised pork, onions, celery and heirloom carrots; laing, or slow-braised greens; kare-kare, an 8-hour, thick peanut stew with oxtail and tripe; and pancit, a textured noodle dish using both rice and wheat noodles. And, as his family owned a bakery in the Philippines, you can expect a bread course featuring items such as mamon — a type of Filipino sponge cake — or ensaymada, bread stuffed with cheese.
You can also bank on lechón: salt-crusted pork that's cooked for about five hours. The salt gets brushed off and the heat gets cranked up, resulting in a thick, crispy skin. “If you don’t execute it correctly, the skin gets rubbery and the meat’s not tender," Ledesma says. "It’s those little nuances of Filipino cuisine: It takes a lot of time and being careful with what you’re doing. It’s like that with any cooking, but with [Filipino cooking], the flavor is so simple that if you don’t hit it, it goes from good to bad. There’s a window.”
It's traditional Filipino cuisine taken to the next level through local ingredients such as pork from Polyface Farm or Autumn Olive Farm. Of course, the chef hopes to keep it especially authentic by bringing in his ace: “Food brings everyone together and I’m going to try to get my dad to come down so he can yell at me, like, ‘Do this better!’” Ledesma laughs. “Really get that authentic, ‘Hey, dad, does this taste right?’'”
Tickets to the first Passport Pop-Up event are now on sale at $100 per person, or $180 for two, including wine and cocktails. Upon purchase of a ticket to the 80-seat event, you will receive an email with the event's address.
“When I first started and was thinking about Filipino food as a concept it was like, 'well, it doesn’t present very well, but it’s so flavorful,'" Ledesma says. "Now that it’s gaining traction and people are more familiar with Filipino cuisine, it’s easier for me. It’s what I want to be cooking.”
Update: Tickets are now $100 each, or $180 for two, and all tickets include beverage pairings.