Chef Janice Dulce: Contemporary Filipino Food in the Bay Area
By Chelsea Davis
A year ago, I stumbled upon pop-up joint FOB Kitchen in San Francisco’s Mission District. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Janice Dulce along with her wife, Brandi, who runs front of house operations. Although Dulce was never classically trained as a chef, first generation Filipino-American Dulce is on a mission to put innovative Filipino food on the map. FOB Kitchen started as a weekly popup at Gashead Tavern, where it still resides, but has since grown into a full-time operation. Much of the popup’s success has been due to Dulce’s genuine personality and zeal for cultural cuisine; her creativity and warmth is clearly evident in her dishes, the way she runs her kitchen and how she treats her guests. Recently, I sat down with chef Dulce to talk food and culture and what contemporary Filipino food means to her and her restaurant.
Growing up, did you eat traditional Filipino cuisine?
Traditional Filipino cuisine was pretty much all I ate growing up. I would get sent to school with lunches consisting of leftover adobo and rice, meanwhile I saw all the other kids eating Lunchables and wishing I could have things like that. When I finally moved out of my house, I started to leave the traditional food that I grew up with behind. I ate the food I thought I was missing out on as a child.
Now I have two baby daughters of my own. When they’re ready for school, I plan on cooking them some of the home-cooked lunches, or “baon,” in the hopes it gives them the same love and appreciation for Filipino food I have today.
FOB Kitchen Adobo Fried Rice
When creating new dishes, how do you go about fusing traditional with modern Filipino cuisine?
I use organic produce and sustainable meats as much as possible. This is how I treat the food that I cook in my own home and I wanted to do the same in my restaurant. I feel that sourcing quality ingredients is really reflected in the quality and flavors of my food. For example, I use Estancia grass fed top sirloin, a free range beef, in my bistek. These cows are raised in open pastures their entire lives. Estancia doesn’t use feedlots, hormones or growth promoting antibiotics. I look for sources that place sustainable agriculture and the health of their animals at the top of their priority list.
What was your creative process like in starting FOB Kitchen?
I began by trying to find a way to present Filipino food in a way that I felt non-Filipinos could enjoy. I started with easily approachable dishes but soon began preparing more adventurous dishes like dinuguan (pork blood stew).
I have also included dishes that aren’t traditionally Filipino, but use Filipino ingredients, such as “Janice’s Ribs” which have a Jufran (a popular type of ketchup made of bananas in the Philippines) and root beer glaze. The glaze is sticky sweet with a deep flavor that is reminiscent of classic BBQ. The Jufran adds the same element that ketchup would in a classic BBQ sauce, but with a Filipino twist.
FOB Kitchen Janice’s Ribs
We’ve also recently gotten into hosting kamayan dinners ¾ a huge feast consisting of beds of rice and endless Filipino dishes you eat entirely with your hands, off banana leaves, family-style. It’s the best way to try a whole bunch of dishes like lechon, lumpia, pancit ¾ you name it ¾ with a group of friends. It’s a delicious event that brings together Filipino hospitality, flavors and comradery to one table.
FOB Kitchen Mechado
What is “contemporary” Filipino cuisine in your opinion?
It’s what’s being served by those brave enough to swim against the stream. Previously, many hadn’t encouraged Filipino food in any other form than it was traditionally served. Now we are seeing chefs introducing menus using Filipino flavors in new and exciting forms.
FOB Kitchen House-cured Tocino
What are your thoughts on the ever-increasing popularity of Filipino food?
We’re excited to see more Filipino restaurants opening up across the nation because it sparks more conversation about Filipino food. Many Southeast Asian cuisines have made a name for themselves, I want Filipino food to be a staple and an option when people are thinking about what they want to eat.
FOB Kitchen House–made Loganisa
With chefs like Dulce spreading the goodness of Filipino food to the masses, it’s clear that the love of this cuisine is only growing. While fans of Dulce’s cooking await a brick-and-mortar location, they can still catch FOB Kitchen at numerous festivals this year, including Outside Lands Music and Arts festival.