If life were a giant dodgeball game and we get to choose sides, I'm on the side of the pinays (or Filipino ladies) from Chicago. Especially if those pinays are chefs. That is my bias and I fully admit that. Chef Chrissy Camba is no exception. We'd been meaning to check out her new popup project, Maddy's Dumpling House, now for months.
After she decided not to do the typical Asian American brain surgeon thing, Chef Chrissy since forged a culinary path that started at HB, and then on to Bin 36, Duchamp and Vincent. She competed under the very, very bright lights of Bravo TV's Top Chef in Seattle, alongside fellow Filipino chef Sheldon Simeon. After her disappointing elimination, she returned to Chicago in November 2012 to open cheese and wine mainstay Bar Pastoral in Lakeview as their executive chef. This March, Chef Chrissy opened a re-concept of the Lincoln Square restaurant Tank Sushi to "modern Filipino" Laughing Bird, which then suddenly closed in late September. In November, Chef Chrissy started Maddy's Dumpling House with a K-Pop dinner.
The lady is certainly a fighter.
Her Filipino Christmas Pork popup dinner on Monday, December 15 (tantalizing porcine menu on Maddy's Dumpling Facebook page, stay tuned for our review!), gave Natalia and me a wonderful excuse to catch up with her.
By lucky coincidence, we ran into Chef Chrissy at Salero's booth at Open Table last week, an event that gathered a cornucopia of Chicago restaurants selling affordable tastings and other goodies in the RedMoon Theatre space near Chinatown, like Xoco, Spiaggia, smalls smoke shack, Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits and many, many more we would have loved to try.
We caught up again over email with Chef Chrissy, about her about her road back to Filipino cuisine, Bravo TV's chef competition series Top Chef, Laughing Bird, Maddy's Dumpling House and her favorite Filipino food memory. She shares it all.
How'd you start your culinary career? (I see you started as a Bio major...) And how'd your culinary path lead you (back) to Filipino food?
After I graduated from Loyola, I didn't take MCATs. I decided to take a year off. You know when you get that nagging feeling that you shouldn't do something? It was something like that. I was working at Starbucks and making fun cakes for friends. Not just regular fun cakes, but The Guggenheim in NY, Surfboarding Cowboys with a Leper Island (don't ask, lol), etc. I then made two, just two, wedding cakes for friends. I don't know how wedding cake makers do it - it was probably the most stressful experience I've had. Anyway, a friend knew a friend who worked for a Chef. I went to HB [Home Bistro] to do a stage under [then-Executive Chef] Joncarl Lachman, and he offered me a job that night. I had had no previous kitchen experience.
I knew how to cook Filipino food (I grew up eating it), so the next step was to learn as much as I could about everything else. I don't know how it ended up back at Filipino food. Kismet? :)
My fangirl self has to ask: What was Top Chef [Season 10 on BravoTV] like? What were your takeaways from the experience? How did it catapult you to the next phase of your career?
Top Chef was very stressful. Everyone is highly competitive and on edge. You're timed, you're filmed, you're a stranger in your environment. I enjoyed it...though I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't choked so early on, lol. I made friends, learned a lot about myself, got sad after I was eliminated, doubted my abilities, worked myself out of that sad town and today I have a clear picture of my future. I think the experience helped me get to myself. This sounds weird, doesn't it, lol.
Takeaways: Always be yourself. :)
Mmmm.....I think I'm currently moving to the next phase of my career now with Maddy's Dumpling House. I think Top Chef opened up doors earlier (or ever!) than they would have been opened had I not been on Top Chef.
Alright, let's talk about Laughing Bird. Natalia and I had a chance to go just once, and we were looking forward to seeing where you were going to take things, especially as Filipino food is starting to have its 'moment.' What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that all Filipinos have their own version of Chicken Adobo, Palabok, Halo Halo, etc. :)
About Maddy's Dumpling House & the Porky Christmas Menu [pop-up dinner on December 15 at Ampersand], How'd you come up with this new concept?
I love Filipino Christmas and I wanted people to get that feeling too!
At Open Table you told us that, instead of doing a lechon [whole roasted pig], you broke down the parts and made various classic Pinoy dishes with them. How do you feel this menu reflects the beauty of Filipino holiday parties?
Well, Christmas time at my Mom's house revolves around the dinner table. It's family style/buffet. The table is FILLED with so much food! SO MUCH FOOD! It's like getting a big hug!
Okay, I should clear something up. Everyday at my Mom's house revolves around the dinner table, lol. Christmastime is just a grander scale.
What do you see in the future for Maddy's one year down the line?
I really want it to be a brick & mortar reality. I want there to be regulars, neighborhood folk, anyone and everyone that is simply looking to eat delicious food and have a great time. I'd love for us to have a garden for bunnies to hang, but I don't know if that'll fly with the health department. :)
This is a question we ask just about everyone for a series we call Pinoy Food for the Soul. It's about showing the diversity of Filipino food lovers and makers, diversity of our experiences with food and the very personal nature of Filipino food. What's your favorite Filipino food memory?
I was in Aklan [Philippines] in what I think was some kind of hut-type home. My memory is a little foggy because I was really young. I think it may have been an Uncle's house or something. It was lunch time, and they asked me if I wanted fried chicken. I remember having delicious Filipino fried chicken in California so I said yes thinking they were going to go to the grocery store or something. The next thing I know, there is a live chicken in my uncle's arms, and he's cutting the chicken's neck. He held it upside down to bleed it and then my memory fades. I didn't pass out, lol. I remember being called to the table because lunch was ready. It was fried chicken. They all seemed to be shaped like chicken feet which I actually thought were chicken feet. Needless to say, I just ate rice that day.
Thanks for reading! Tune in at the same bat time, same bat channel to read our review of Chef Chrissy Camba's Filipino Pork Christmas Dinner from her latest project, Maddy's Dumpling House. Tickets to the multi-course, paired beverage, Filipino porky extravaganza on Monday, December 15th dinner are still available for $65.
Photo credit on header, Sarahlynn Pablo on sarahlynnpablo.com.