San Mateo, California. March 14.
We drove all night from SoCal, up 101, alternating driving with sleeping in dark corners of freeway gas stations. By this time, we had prep cooked for Chef Yana Gilbuena's kamayan dinner in San Diego on February 28 and shared a kitchen with Chef Warren Almeda of LA's Belly and Snout for a March 7 longganisa scotch egg pop-up. Next on our itinerary was the Bay Area.
We were in the full swing of Kain Na Cali, what we called the month-long, California Filipino pop-up initiative collaboration organized with The Filipino Food Movement and seven Filipino American chefs: Chef Yana Gilbuena of the traveling SALO project, Chefs Eric Pascual and Alex Retodo of the Bay Area’s Lumpia Company, Chef Jessette Kalsi from Nouveau Filipino in Napa, Chefs Chad and Chase Valencia from LA-based LASA, and us at Filipino Kitchen.
When our chef, AC Boral, was unable to lead due to injury, Chef Rob Menor took the helm of our RICE & SHINE Bay Area brunch without hesitation. Chef Rob came through for us and our customers when he led the kitchen takeover of Chef Tim Luym's Attic restaurant in San Mateo. To the RICE & SHINE menu, Chef Rob added his Adobo Loko and Ghostface Eggs: a day-long adobo-marinated pulled pork shoulder with a scramble of tomatoes, onions and patis (fish sauce).
Chef Rob was a great teacher in the kitchen that day. He got us rookies hip to the back-of-house lingo, understanding our stations and how the whole operation works together. He even got me to take charge of the fryer for the longganisa scotch eggs and the griddle for the maja blanca pancakes. It means a lot when a chef puts you in charge of two key items for the first time during a busy brunch service.
But who is Chef Rob, the man behind the Benjamin-printed bandana, the culinary artist who fights traditional standards on Balitang America?
The Stockton-born chef says that he spent a decade cutting his teeth in Chicago; it was where he paid all his dues and learned the industry. He credits Chicago with making him the culinarian he is today, calling it "his graduate school." And while that is all true, there's also the side of Chef Rob that is very much rooted in Stockton, where he returned in 2014, looking for growth.
Chef Rob found it last October when he joined the kitchen at Papa Urb's Grill in Tracy, twenty miles from Stockton. Papa Urb's Grill is an institution well-known for serving Filipino food with a twist which appeals particularly to younger Filipino Americans. At the grand opening today, April 8, Chef Rob heads the kitchen at Papa Urb’s second location at 331 E. Weber Avenue in Stockton.
In this edition of Pinoy Food for the Soul, Chef Rob Menor shares his memory of a goat slaughtering when he was five years old, his picture of the men in his family doing this work and the kambing dishes he loves best.
Chef Rob Menor: It started with this sound, WWHHHHOOOO. It was a flame thrower. I woke up. That was my alarm clock. I heard mmmeeehhhh [mimicks goat noises]. I was like, What the hell? And then I heard that. So I look out the window. I was like, Alright, they’re going to party today.
Who is “they”?
All of the uncles that play cards in the backyard at every party. Smokin' Benson Hedges and drinkin'.
The OG’s! That’s how I got into it. Mmmmeeehhhh! WWHHHOOOOO. They would slaughter the goats in the backyard. So I’m five, and watching this. And I’m liking this, and I’m staying there, I’m watching them through the whole thing.
Walk through the process.
They’re coming from French Camp, California. It’s a small, small off-the-map place, where they would pick ‘em up, real early in the morning. So they’d undo the hitch on the truck, unload it. It’d be a thousand goat shit pellets on the grass and start loading this thing, 'cause this goat’s getting scared shitless.
Like, Something’s going down.
So they walk him towards the back, and then they tie the rope around the pole to keep him there, stabilize the goat, let him hang out. And they’re doing the set-up, putting a metal screen, kinda like this table here, they’re putting that down over something. And everyone’s hanging out, having a good time. They’re all wearing their sons’ old Nikes…
My goat killers’ outfit! Old-ass Nikes right here.
It’s like, some old Forces and J’s, you know. It’s like, What are you doing today in them Jordans? We’re gonna go kill a goat, man. So they’re all hangin' out, they bring the goat over and lay him down. But it’s not easy. They’ve gotta really hold the legs, because it’s kicking around, you know. And so one of the uncles will walk over with a sauce pan and put it under the goat’s throat. And then they hold it, and they get the Bowie, the curved one, with the curve at the tip.
Oh, that type of knife.
And then they put it through the throat. They cut the throat and they let everything come out into that sauce pan. And then so you hear all of this gushing of the blood coming out and into the sauce pan. And I’m five, I’m watching this and it’s just intriguing me. My other cousin, he went back in the house, cause he don’t wanna see it. He was like, feels bad for this goat, crying. And I just stay outside watching this, and this is like, where it starts for me with food.
So yeah, after that, when he’s not kicking around and tweaking anymore, then they go get that WWHHHOOOOO. An uncle with a Benson Hedge, at a 45-degree angle between his lips, holding this flame thrower, in a mechanic uniform, old Jordans or even tsinelas, they’re just burning this goat here. And they’re not cooking the goat. They’re not doing this to cook the goat. They’re doing this to burn the fur off. So then after that it’s usually two guys come over, with a hose -- with a hoe and a hose -- and they starting hoeing away. Not like, getting into the goat, just shaving the fur while they’re spraying it. They flip it over and do the other side till you’re left with this smooth skin. I know the Africans call these smokies.
Oh -- smilies.
Smilies? Yeah, so the goat’s there, and it’s smiling, but the tongue is coming out of the side. And that’s when they start the fabricating process. Fabricating, it’s the term used for butchering. We say fabricating in the kitchen. So they’re going through all the cuts. They cut the head, and they separate the legs and the torso. And they put the incision in the stomach, open it, bring out the belly, and they bring out the gallbladder. And they’ll save it so they can make sankutsar, that’s what they call it. Others, they call it papaitan. But we call it sankutsar. All those cuts, the offals, everything they’ll set aside.
They either make whoever, if there’s a child or young person there, go to work. Of course, they have to put everybody to work. So they let somebody go dig a hole and they throw out all of the entrail and stuff like that there in that hole, and they bury it. And they take the hose and put it in the intestine and start washing it out, all that stuff. And you just watch ‘em do it. That’s kind of where I learned the first time, was watching that.
And they were making what some call sisig, but we call it kilawen. They were doing the cuts and everything like that. They’d set aside their own portion with their drinks and enjoy this pulutan (finger foods) with ginger and onions. Yeah, that’s how it started for me. That’s how I got into it.
What was your favorite dish that they would make with the goat?
Kaldereta and kilawen, definitely. My grandma’s brother, he was the kaldereta king in the family. He’s still alive. I wanna say he’s touching his 70s now. He has an operation from his home now where he vends to those in the underground, the Filipino food underground. It’s still very old school and underground there. You have to know so-and-so to get this-and-that. He’s the kaldereta king. His name is Rodolpho and he makes the best kaldereta in the family, I think probably around that area.
What does Lolo Rodolpho put in his kaldereta?
I can’t exactly say.
Oh, is it a family secret?
I don’t wanna say! He’s got his way of what he’s doing.