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A new angle

Filipino food goes upscale as chefs plan a party honoring TV personality Emme Tomimbang

By Joleen Oshiro

LAST UPDATED: 03:12 a.m. HST, Dec 20, 2013

When Hawaii chef Sheldon Simeon razzle-dazzled judges to take third place in last season's "Top Chef," much of his success was propelled by dishes based on the Filipino food he grew up eating. Filipino food was new to the well-established judges. That may have been surprising to some Hawaii viewers, but those in the know say the homey cuisine has yet to be unveiled to mainstream America.

This fact makes a Nov. 9 dinner at the Filipino Community Center a notable event. The meal, a benefit for the center, honors television journalist Emme Tomimbang with a multicourse fusion dinner inspired by traditional Filipino cuisine.

Chefs from some of Hawaii's best restaurants have created dishes such as adobo duck leg taco (chef Derek Wong from the Pineapple Room), Shinsato pork guisantes with pea shoot salad and budbud fritter (Darryl Shinogi, Roy's Ko Olina), and shrimp, vegetarian and vegan lumpia (Paul Rivera, Hula Grill Waikiki). Master sommelier Roberto Viernes will offer wine pairings.

A fundraiser for the Filipino Community Center:

» When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9

» Where: Filipino Community Center, 94-428 Mokuola St.

» Tickets: $250; tables $5,000 to $15,000

» Information: Joanne Corpuz at 680-0451 or visit filcom.org

"Filipino fare itself is not necessarily upscale, but these chefs are incorporating traditional ingredients and flavors into their dishes," said chef Michael Rabe, president of Creations in Catering and a special-events planner who is overseeing the menu.

Rivera, 43, who is making lumpia for the appetizer portion of the event, said he grew up with his parents and grandparents making lumpia for parties.

Classic lumpia comprises pork and/or chicken, bean sprouts, carrots and peas rolled in a flour wrapper and deep fried. It is dipped in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. Dessert lumpia uses banana for filling.

Rivera's versions include a shrimp lumpia that "stays within the flavor profile of lumpia" but features a butterflied shrimp marinated in herb oil and fish sauce, wrapped with julienne carrots and basil.

"I wrap it so the tail is sticking out. It's pretty, but it also allows the oil to go inside and cook the lumpia evenly," he explained.

The shrimp lumpia was his winning recipe in a 2001 contest that Tomimbang held for her "Island Moments" television show.

Rivera is also providing vegetarian and vegan choices.

The vegetarian selection is a fried version filled with quinoa, blanched kale and feta cheese, based on a quinoa and feta burger Rivera created for Hula Grill's menu.

"We have a number of guests with gluten allergies, and I prefer quinoa to tofu," he said. "I thought it translated well in the lumpia — not too heavy — and the feta held the quinoa together."

It is served with a banana dipping sauce of fresh banana, fish sauce and chili pepper water.

The vegan lumpia fills a rice wrapper with mongo beans simmered in vegetable stock and Maui honey, soba noodles, string beans, carrots and bean sprouts. The accompanying sauce is the traditional kind, reduced and embellished with tamarind "to give it more body."

Rivera says that while Fili­pino cuisine as a whole hasn't been pushed to the forefront, chefs of Filipino descent like himself are incorporating the flavor profiles of the cuisine into their dishes.

For instance, Rivera serves dishes cooked in adobo sauce, a combo of soy sauce and vinegar, that is tempered with butter and cream to accommodate the palates of tourists.

"There's a back flavor of adobo," he said of the popular sauce.

As for wine, Viernes, the master sommelier, says Filipino people "don't have a culture of wine." Many are instead beer drinkers. But that didn't hinder his ability to provide pairings for the benefit dinner.

"The same principles apply in all food. You consider the major flavors and ingredients," he said. "When you pair a dish with wine, the wine should either contrast or cleanse those flavors."

Being of Filipino descent, Viernes was already familiar with the cuisine, which often includes a variety of bitter vegetables and fish sauce as seasoning.

To balance these factors, he looked for wines with no tannins, higher acidity and a bright fruit flavor.

Viernes added that wines with strong "citrusy notes are good with fish sauce because they function like the squeeze of a lemon on seafood, cutting through any fishiness.

"Our sense of smell gets used to odors quickly and easily, and the same goes for when we're eating; the palate will lose its sense of nuance and intensity pretty quickly," he explained. "When you have wine that cleanses the palate, each bite is just as new as the first."

Viernes' selections: NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserve, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc, Votre Sante Coppola Chateau Red 2012, Gary Farrell Carneros Chardonnay and Stag's Leap "Hands of Time" Red.

Though the benefit honors Tomimbang, a FilCom Center board member, she is also lending a hand with planning. It was Tomimbang who insisted the dinner be held at the center, an impressive structure tucked away in sleepy Waipahu town. The center serves the Filipino community in varied ways, providing everything from Zumba and citizenship classes to preparing nurses for licensing.

"My mom passed away a year ago, and I was looking for a place to have a ‘celebration of life' lunch. We held it at the center and they did such a great job," she recalled.

Tomimbang asked her chef friends to participate, not realizing the relevance of what they would be creating.

"I thought it was kind of a kick to do food that was Fili­pino-inspired, but this is unprecedented," she said. "In the Philippines, fine dining means French and American food."

Rabe, the Creations in Catering president, believes Filipino cuisine will soon take the spotlight nationally.

He attends catering conferences across the country and says interest in the cuisine has been growing. He says national companies that produce Filipino food items such as lumpia wrappers and ube (sweet potato) ice cream, have their eyes on a national push.

"To me, Filipino cuisine is like the new Italian, which started out in mom-and-pop kitchens and was made by immigrants," he said. "It's just being introduced to the marketplace."


3 large shrimp, butterflied
3 lumpia wrappers
6 basil leaves
1 tablespoon carrots, julienned
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying

» Marinade:
1 tablespoon herb oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon fish sauce
Pinch salt and pepper

» Dipping sauce:
1 cup chili pepper water
Half-ripe banana
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons calamansi juice

Mix marinade items. Place shrimp in mixture and marinate 10 minutes.

On flat surface, lay lumpia wrapper. Place 2 pieces basil leaves in bottom right corner. Place carrot on leaves. Place shrimp on carrot with tail sticking out on right side.

Brush beaten egg on top and left side of wrapper. Roll from bottom until shrimp is wrapped (leave tail sticking out). Fold left side of wrapper to opposite edge and continue to roll all the way to top. (Can freeze at this point for later use.)

Heat oil to 350 degrees and fry lumpia until golden. Drain on paper towels.

To make sauce, place all ingredients in blender and mix well.

Serve lumpia with dipping sauce. Serves 3.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 260 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 450 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein


6 tablespoons cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon feta cheese
1 tablespoon small-diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon small-diced green bell pepper
1 tablespoon small-diced kabocha
1 kale leaf
1 lumpia wrapper
1 teaspoon egg, beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying

Mix well quinoa, feta, peppers and kabocha.

On flat surface, lay lumpia wrapper. Place kale, with top of leaf sticking out, in bottom right corner. Top with quinoa mix.

Brush left side with beaten egg and fold over. Brush more egg on top and roll tightly. Rest roll, sealed side down, to secure seal.

Heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry until golden. Drain on paper towels. Serves 1.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 300 calories, 14 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 9 g protein


Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.

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