Charles Olalia of RiceBar and Alvin Cailan of Eggslut and Unit 120. Image courtesy of Danny Jensen.
The Valencia brothers by Maricel Sison
Suam Na Mais. Image by Stephanie Barros
"They had the ambition to open their own restaurant even before they linked up with us for Unit 120, but back then their business structure was risky,” Alvin says of the Valencia brothers. “Since they've been here they've been able to save a lot of money on their own as independent owners without investors and now they're ready to open their own restaurant. So, mission accomplished."
From left: Iseo Valencia, Chad Valencia, Alvin Cailan, Isa Fabro and Chase Valencia at Unit 120. Image courtesy of LASA
After culinary school, Cailan worked in some of Portland’s top fine dining destinations. But before long, the nationwide recession began taking a toll on the city’s culinary scene and Cailan decided to make his way back down the coast. Cailan returned home to develop his skills in the kitchens of The French Laundry, Spago, Hatfield’s, Bouchon, and also helped chef David LeFevre open Manhattan Beach Post. At a certain point, Cailan felt that the trek from his home in Pico Rivera to the restaurant in Manhattan Beach was guzzling too much gas and he yearned to venture out on his own. “I had the experience and I need to start making real money, so I decided to do a pop up in a food truck for 6 months,” Cailan explains.
Image courtesy of Eggslut
Unit 120 also serves as a homebase of sorts for Cailan and his fellow chefs to help grow LA’s Filipino food movement. "Over the last year we've been really strong on creating a Filipino community of chefs,” Cailan explains. And while you may not yet know some of their names either, you’ve likely eaten at their restaurants. There’s Charles Olalia of RiceBar Chad and Chase Valencia of LASA, Ria Wilson formerly of Wild, Ken Concepcion of CUT, Maynard Llera of Bestia, Russell Victorioso of Odys + Penelope and Isa Fabro who previously worked at Orsa & Winston and now heads up the dessert program at Unit 120. Collectively they’ve worked to bring Filipino flavors and dishes to the forefront of dining in Los Angeles. Cailan notes that many other chefs and restaurants across the city are also now exploring Filipino cuisine on their menus.
“There's a young entrepreneurial spirit coming up that goes against everything that we believe in within our chef coalition, which is that we've worked for the past 15 years in kitchens and have earned to be where we are. As opposed to kids fresh out of high school or college and borrow money from their parents to try and operate a Filipino food concept or restaurant without any experience. That leads to poorly constructed food and venues, which are bound to shutter and weaken our Filipino food movement.”
Cailan encourages those who are looking to open a Filipino restaurant or pop-up to approach him and his fellow chefs first. “Not that we know everything,” he says. “It's just that we've been there before and wouldn't want anyone to make the same mistakes.” He continues:
“The difference between most Filipino food movements and what we're doing as a barkada (which means a group of friends in Filipino—that's what we call ourselves)—is that collectively we have 100 years of experience in the restaurant industry as chefs. And some of these people have none. It's not that we're the governing body, but we encourage people to come and talk to us and ask questions. Tell us how we can help you, so we're not working against each other. That's where we're at right now, I literally feel like the ambassador where I have to eat at different concepts and say 'Hey, here's my card, give me a call." It's weird, but we care about it that much.”
Image courtesy of Danny Jensen
LA Rose Cafe
Bisteg courtesy of @ihearttommy0716
Oi Asian Fusion
Go Get Em Tiger
Image courtesy of Danny Jensen
Crème Caramel LA
The Park's Finest BBQ
Image courtesy of @hairface
Featured image of LASA's Monkfish a La Plancha by Wyatt Conlon