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A FILIPINO-American chef taps into memories both personal and universal to create a menu for Filipinos flying on Business Class.
On Feb. 24, media guests were taken to the Philippine Airlines (PAL) offices in Pasay to meet chef Vallerie Castillo-Archer. Ms. Castillo-Archer has the distinction of being the first female and first Filipino-American chef of Los Angeles dining bastion Yamashiro. This year, she became PAL’s new Head of Catering Operations, and with the position comes the responsibility of creating the 82nd anniversary menu for PAL’s Business Class.
The brief she made for herself was simple. “I didn’t just want to create a menu to please everyone. I took a step back and looked at this from a passenger’s point of view,” said Ms. Castillo-Archer. The passenger was familiar enough. “When I was a child, when my father came to pick us up from the Philippines, PAL was the first airline we took. I vividly remember climbing up the stairs.”
An amuse-bouche of beet-cured salmon opened the meal, was followed by a Tiger Prawn Sinigang (sour soup), with sweetish cherry tomatoes, green chilis, eggplant, string beans, and water spinach (kangkong). A tuna tataki salad came after, then a pan-seared sea bass with steamed bok choi and potato puree. A filet mignon with asparagus and potato puree, dressed up with Tanduay rum sauce, then a truffle mac and cheese filled one up. An Ilocano cauliflower adobo (stewed in vinegar) was served with some pride as a nod to Ms. Castillo-Archer’s own Ilocano roots. We had three servings of a tapsilog (tapa or dried meat, fried rice, and an egg) bowl, followed by chicken sausage with ube (purple yam) waffles.
Collectively, these all suggested a taste of home, with a mild, comforting flavor. This was intentional, according to the chef, because, “When I created this menu, I wanted to capture everyone’s emotions. To do that, we put all of our hard work and effort into the menu.
“I want you to think of this as your appetizer to your destination. It’s not necessarily to fill up the passengers; not to make them full, but to create some nostalgia in them, to remember how the adobo tastes coming home. How you long to be here with your family,” she said.
The menu will be served starting this month to Business Class passengers traveling on PAL’s flights from Manila to North America and Australia.
Ms. Castillo-Archer migrated to the US when she was six, and while the family occasionally flew back from Hawaii to Clark Air Base inPampanga, she hasn’t been back to the Philippines for over 30 years. “What I wanted was to — on the plane with PAL — eat adobo, and remember my grandparents. I want that memory to last.”
PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Capt. Stanley K. Ng said during the dinner, “I can feel that Chef Val’s heart is here in the Philippines.
“Chef Val offered her service to PAL, and to the Filipino people,” he said. “This is just the beginning of an amazing journey of PAL giving back to the Philippines.”
For her part, Ms. Castillo-Archer said, “It’s paying tribute to my grandparents, who took care of us, and fed us.” — Joseph L. Garcia