Saturday, March 12, 2016

Cobaya Kamayan with Chef Dale Talde

We encourage chefs to think of a Cobaya dinner as a chance to do something different, something they typically couldn't otherwise pull of in their restaurants. Chef Dale Talde of Talde Miami Beach (and also of Talde Brooklyn, Talde Jersey City, Pork Slope and Thistle Hill) got the message.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Kamayan with Chef Talde flickr set).

We gathered in the restaurant's bar as our twenty-five guinea pigs made their way to Mid-Beach. Though Talde is inside the Thompson Hotel, it ditches the typical bland, anonymous feel of a hotel restaurant for a hodge-podge of Asian-Americana and hip-hop motifs: behind the hostess stand is a tongue-in-cheek portrait of Talde with a couple bikini-clad models all holding plates of food; one wall is covered with a street art style picture of a tangle of ramen noodles.

As we were assembling our guinea pigs, the Talde crew was getting ready for us, spreading out layers of banana leaves on one long communal table. Though Talde describes his style as "proudly inauthentic" Asian-American cooking, this was going to be a meal with a genuine connection to his Filipino ancestry: a kamayan feast.

What does that mean? From what I can gather from a few minutes of Googling, "kamayan" literally means "with your hands," and derives from a pre-colonial tradition in the Philippines of eating with one's hands. The Spaniards of course saw this as "uncivilized," and brought with them the use of cutlery. But great eating traditions don't die easily, and there is a real pleasure and sense of community in everyone literally digging into a meal with their hands. I've also seen the same thing described as a "boodle fight," referring to a Filipino military custom in the same style where soldiers and officers, regardless of rank, all eat with their hands from the same table.

So as we entered the dining room (after making sure everyone washed their hands), we found one long table covered in banana leaves, and then piled high with dinner for twenty-five. No plates, no utensils, just a lot of food – and a lot of napkins.

(continued ...)

Folks got into the spirit of things pretty quickly. And when they did, they discovered a treasure trove of good things. I unfortunately didn't catch much of Chef Talde's description of what he made, but here's what I found with a little digging into the piles of food on the table:

(You can see some of the spread closer up here).

A massive roasted grouper (its mouth gaping at our end of the table) with sweet, soft flesh (especially the cheeks and along the back of the skull), with some tangy stewed tomatoes. Fat slabs of fried pork belly ("lechon kawali"), golden and shattering crisp. Chicken adobo laced with vinegar and annato, which was one of the most delicious birds I've eaten all year. Plump, sweet shrimp that had been cooked just right, perfect with a swipe through a dipping sauce bright with tart vinegar and inundated with fresh chiles. Lumpia with some sort of savory, meaty filling. Green beans in a fantastic coconut curry sauce. A bright yellow papaya salad, also rippling with chile heat. Of course, lots of rice to accompany everything, and also to test your ability to pick it up with your fingers and get it to your mouth without incident.

We did a pretty good job on our end of the table, but some other sections looked like they had barely even made a dent, even after a couple hours of picking and scooping. These dishes highlighted some of the vibrant, intense flavors of Filipino food, a cuisine which lots of folks say – for good reason – is a trending topic. One of the things I find interesting about it is that, like Peruvian food, it's a sort of natural "fusion" cuisine that incorporates elements of many food cultures, melding indigenous traditions with Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and American influences.

Afterwards, Chef Talde brought everyone back to the bar to treat them to some "5G Cookies," so named because Talde won $5,000 in a Quickfire Challenge when he was on Top Chef with the recipe, which involves a salted caramel ganache layered over a sort of pretzel and potato chip shortbread crust. He also handed out autographed copies of his book, "Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn."

Talde has plenty of reason to be proud: this was a really fun meal, a great experience, the kind of meal we've been looking to do for a long time. A big thank you Chef Talde, to all of his team at Talde Miami Beach, and as always most of all, to our guinea pigs – for washing their hands, for being into this kind of a meal, and for the interest and support that makes these kinds of events possible.

Talde Miami Beach
4041 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida

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