Monique Moore celebrated her 40th birthday with a dinner personally cooked by Andre Guerrero, chef of the hot new restaurant Linq.
How did Moore lure Guerrero away from his high-profile job? Simple. He’s her brother. Guerrero cooked most of the food at Linq, on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, and took it to the party site in Glendale. Pastry chef Jan Purdy came too and contributed a couple of desserts.
The menu was nothing like the food at Linq. For this milestone occasion, Guerrero prepared sumptuous dishes from his family’s place of origin, the Philippines.
About 15 relatives and in-laws gathered at a long table set on a veranda. “When my dad was alive, this was an ongoing thing every Sunday,” says Guerrero, pouring a cool drink of cantaloupe shreds in lightly sweetened water. A parade of helpers carried big pots of putsero (puchero), ginatan, callos and rice outside to the buffet table. “These are not everyday dishes that you would find in a restaurant [in the Philippines],” Guerrero says. Rather than compromise with shortcuts, he had prepared them in the elaborate tradition of his family.
For putsero, he sought out Spanish style chorizo and blood sausage to combine with beef, a ham hock, slab bacon, the saba banana of the Philippines, garbanzo beans and an assortment of vegetables. “The stock is very rich and flavorful, almost like a sauce,” he says. “You eat it with rice.”
Seasoned with patis, which is Filipino fish sauce, and garlic, the putsero required two additional condiments: a smoky, roasted eggplant relish reminiscent of Middle Eastern baba ghannouj and a garlicky tomato sauce.
The name is Spanish, and the dish is loosely based on Spain’s olla podrida, with Moorish and Filipino additions. “I don’t know if you would ever find anything like this in Spain,” Guerrero says.
Like putsero, callos (tripe) contains an unusual mix of ingredients. In addition to honeycomb tripe, Guerrero puts in a pig’s foot, Spanish chorizo, tomatoes, potatoes, roasted red pepper and garbanzo beans. He sautes onion and garlic for the dish in olive oil, another Spanish touch, and adds Spanish paprika--pimenton. “It’s very strong. You just put a little in this, and it changes the flavor of the dish dramatically.”
Guerrero says the three main influences on Filipino food are Chinese, Malay (by which he means the indigenous cooking of the islands) and Spanish. The United States’ occupation of the Philippines, which lasted slightly less than 50 years, ending in 1946, left little mark.
“Filipinos do like hot dogs and fried chicken. They even celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey, but if you taste these things in the Philippines, they don’t taste like here,” Guerrero says.
In 1996, Guerrero was invited to the Manila Hotel as guest chef for a Taste of Los Angeles promotion. Dishes such as salmon with mushroom crust and white bean puree proved so popular that his stay was extended, and he was offered a job, which he declined.
“The Filipino taste is for traditional food,” he says. “Filipinos are interested in who makes the best callos or putsero. If you were very innovative and did cutting-edge food, there wouldn’t be a market for it.” Guerrero is happier with the buzz at Linq, and with researching Indian, Thai, Korean and other cuisines in Los Angeles.
Linq’s menu “doesn’t look like it was designed by a Filipino,” he says. However, Guerrero has sneaked in a few touches, including his mother’s tomato sauce, renamed tomato compote, and lumpia Shanghai, which are spring rolls.
Guerrero served the lumpia as appetizers at his sister’s party, accompanied by a thick sweet dipping sauce. They reflect the Chinese side of Filipino cuisine.
Ginatang Kalabasa, with a coconut milk base, is Malay. It’s a creamy stew of shrimp and kabocha squash seasoned with patis and bagoong, a shrimp paste imported from the Philippines.
“The Filipinos who have a lot of Spanish blood will eat callos and putsero more than Filipinos who are more Malaysian,” Guerrero says. Such dishes would have been Sunday dinner fare in his family, which mingles French and Spanish ancestry.
Born in Quezon City, which is next to Manila, Guerrero was brought to the United States at the age of 6 and grew up on the border of Glendale and Los Angeles.
The family was intensely food-conscious. “My mom (Liwayway Guerrero) was a great cook,” Guerrero says. His father, Ruben Guerrero, was a master at pastries and saw to it that his children were exposed to interesting new restaurants. There were 10 children. “It was like cooking for a restaurant all the time,” Guerrero says.
In 1979, the family did open a restaurant, Cafe Le Monde in Glendale. “My dad wanted a French restaurant,” Guerrero says, but the children had other ideas. They wanted to make adobo, Chinese chicken salad, Belgian cheese croquettes and Spanish dishes, such as Catalan-style oxtails.
“As far as I know, we were the first restaurant to do an eclectic style menu in Los Angeles,” Guerrero says. “It was so new. We were still heavy into the theme restaurants then, like Medieval, Polynesian, those kinds of places.” Cafe Le Monde flourished for eight years and closed in 1987. The site is now occupied by a harp store.
With his father as teacher, Guerrero took up pastry-making at the age of 10. By 12, he could make pa^te a choux, pastry cream, sponge cakes and caramel custard.
Birthdays were celebrated with lots of pastries. “My dad would make not just one cake but three or four desserts. He would be up all night baking,” Guerrero says.
Although his father died four years ago, the tradition continues. There were 10 desserts at Monique’s party. Guerrero contributed a Filipino dessert, reyna blanca. “It’s almost like panna cotta,” he says, “but it uses agar-agar instead of gelatin, plus coconut milk and juice.” Toasted green rice, known as pinipig, accompanies the molded dessert.
Purdy, Linq’s pastry chef, helped Guerrero by making the reyna blanca and also brought milk-chocolate brownies with pistachios and halvah cheesecake topping. Guerrero’s sister, Bernadette Sperry, who once had her own pastry shop, reproduced her father’s gateau sans rival, a layered cake of nuts and meringue.
Other desserts included banana tarts topped with whipped cream and swirls of caramel and chocolate; macadamia nut cookies, individual fruit tarts, a fruit cheesecake and a chocolate icebox cake, “one of my aunt’s signature desserts, like a chocolate pudding with nuts,” Guerrero says.
Additional desserts handed down by Ruben Guerrero were flan flavored with grated lime zest and the birthday cake, a chocolate and rum chiffon cake with French butter cream frosting.
The one Filipino dessert served at Linq, a flan made with the purple yam ube, was taken off the menu because of lack of response.
“Real Filipino food has a very limited audience. There is still this air of being very foreign and unfamiliar,” Guerrero says. That’s a pity, because dishes as interesting as those Guerrero prepared deserve to be better known.