Interviews

On The Table: Chinkee Clemente-Koppe

By sanju on 16 February, 2011


What can I say about this lady. Aside from being an accomplished food writer,
blogger and wife to hubby Matt, Chinkee is a very good friend. Despite a slight age difference, we have bonded through our love of good food and wine. C and I have had many dinner dates with Chinkee and Matt and we have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. That our tastes are quite similar does help a lot, creating a mutual respect for each other’s opinion: Most of the time, at least. She also helps run No. 38; a sports bar with live acts, good food and great drinks that is located along Jupiter Street. Let’s take a quick peek into Chinkee’s world:

Of all the things that you could write about why food?
Oh wow, where do I even begin? Of course, there’s the obvious- I love food. I grew up in a family that enjoys cooking and eating out. I bond with my family and friends over food. Therefore, I like to believe that I know enough about it to chronicle where and what I eat and make insightful observations about my gastronomic experiences.
Also, food is just a really fun topic. I discovered that I can put words together rather well when I was in college and it was always about serious things like world history and politics and international law. So, my initial foray into writing was mostly angst-filled rants about the government and my idealistic schemes on how to change the world. Eventually, I just got tired of being pissed off all the time and decided I wanted to write about things that make me smile. And food always does that for me.

Who are the food writers who inspire you and why?
Reading the columns of the late great Doreen Fernandez and Clinton Palanca was what got me interested in food writing in the first place. They taught me early on to have respect for the written word, to make the extra effort to always produce “publishable work” (Or at least try my hardest to), to have a style and own it. I hope I don’t offend anyone, but nobody on print has really captivated me like those two. For now, I get my fix from food blogs.

Many regional cuisines like Thai, Singaporean and Vietnamese have found their place on the world culinary stage, why do you think Pinoy food hasn’t achieved the same global acclaim?
In my humble opinion, it’s probably because of two things: 1) bad aesthetics, and 2) bad marketing. I have said this before- to the uninitiated, our scrumptious kare-kare must look like this oily, brownish mess in a bowl. A lot of restaurants now seem to recognize the need to “prettify” our food, hence the deconstructing of stews and a greater focus on presentation, with the hope, of course, of not compromising taste.
Nevertheless, there is still the trouble of getting people to try them. Pinoy food is perceived more as a novelty. How many times have we been asked by US customs if we carry balut in our suitcases? Why is it that the foul-smelling durian gets more press than our equally-delicious but fragrant mangoes? We need to get the focus on the homey and addicting flavors that we grew up with, and away from the food that belong in “Fear Factor”. There are tons of other reasons- such as regionalism, identity crisis brought about by confusing colonial influences, etc.- but I believe it’s primarily those two things.

You have been writing your blog for over three years now, what changes have you observed in the local food scene over the years?
The Filipino palate has evolved so much. There are so many choices out there now, and the consumers have higher expectations from their grocers, deli owners and restauranteurs. Thanks to globalization, people are harder to fool- diners now know what a good rogan josh should taste like, or at what temperature sauvignon blanc should be served. This heightened awareness has made us more discerning that the food industry has also upped its game. It excites me when I eat abroad and I notice that Bouchon’s foie gras terrine tastes just like the one Chef Marc Aubry (of the now-defunct Je Suis Gourmand) makes. Imagine: we have the same level of quality and technique right on our doorstep! Nothing makes me prouder and happier.

What is your favorite food blog, cookbook, food-related TV show and food magazine?
For food blogs- I love Dessert Comes First, just because Lori writes so well and it still feels personal despite the fact that she’s one of the most popular local bloggers out there. For wine-related stuff and fine dining, I like to check out Eye On Wine- Noel’s wine notes cannot be beat, plus he gets to eat the best food out there. Same with Miguel of Food and Wine of the World- his job literally allows him to travel the globe where he gets to eat the most amazing dishes- everywhere from the local market to Michelin-starred restaurants. I also enjoy reading The Amats Project, which has a group of guys (I assume) reviewing the local watering holes and notable alcoholic drinks. They’re quite witty, and, I assume that they write when they are sober because the writing is pretty good.

I love watching Iron Chef, Top Chef, Barefoot Contessa, No Reservations and- my ultimate favorite at the moment- Man vs. Food!

If for example, one day, Anthony Bourdain calls you and asks to spend the day with you. where would you take him for breakfast, a mid-moring snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and cocktails?
If I’m going to spend the day with Anthony Bourdain, who cares what I want?! We’ll do whatever he feels like doing! I’ll just be happy to bask in his awesomeness. At the end of the day, though, I will have to take him to our bar, where I’ll invite some close friends and we’ll just hang out with Tony (by then I suppose I’ll be allowed to call him that) and get him drunk on some really good lambanog we get from Mauban, Quezon. Imagine all the cool stories he will tell!

After hearing stories told to me by your loving and devoted hubby Matt, your love for cooking is very evident. Please tell our readers what is your signature dish?
I love pasta, so I have quite a few pasta recipes up my sleeve. I also do a pretty mean beef goulash, something I learned to make for Matt since he used to eat that a lot back in Germany.

What junk food do you love?
I grew up on Shakey’s thin crust Manager’s Choice pizza, and I am not ashamed to admit that I indulge in Jollibee’s Spaghetti and Chicken Joy Meal when I am hungover. Fishballs were taboo in our home when I was young, so maybe that’s why I eat it with gusto every time I get the chance. And- oh my God- chicharon! But only the ones with the thick fatty layer, otherwise- what’s the point?

Is there a food that you just can’t seem to enjoy?
Ampalaya (bitter melon) and okra. Those vegetables just have flavors and textures that do not belong in one’s mouth.

Can you give three tips to aspiring food bloggers?
There is really only one thing to remember, and everything else will follow: respect. This respect will force you to produce well-written entries, with the belief that it is what is expected of you and that is what your readers deserve. Also, this will prevent you from being preachy and presumptuous. Nobody likes a bully and a know-it-all. Never impose your opinions on others, and do not be offended when others do not agree with you. As I have said once before, “one person’s Alain Ducasse can be another person’s Chef Boyardee”. Finally, when reviewing an establishment or a dish, always be conscientious that there is a person behind it. What you say can- no, it will- directly affect that person’s livelihood. Always be constructive with your criticism, never mean-spirited. On the other hand, be generous with praise when it is due. Nothing bad could possibly come out of being positive.

What are the future plans for Chinkee Clemente Koppe and One Big Bite?
Total world domination. An action figure. Maybe a couple of sex tapes. We’ll see.

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  • FEBRUARY 16, 2011 8:39 AM

    ChichaJo said...

    So nice to read more about you Chinkee! :) I am so with you on the chicharon...without the laman it's all air! ;)

  • FEBRUARY 16, 2011 2:32 PM

    Chinkee said...

    Hi Joey! Thanks thanks:-). So glad we agree on chicharon laman! Hope to see you again soon:)

  • FEBRUARY 18, 2011 8:10 AM

    foodinpantry said...

    Nice to know you, Ms. Chinkee! :) Have a nice day!

  • FEBRUARY 25, 2011 7:38 AM

    thebluefrog said...

    Wow! excellent write up! Indeed, Chinkee is a true down to earth food blogger! Agree with her about why Filipino food hasn't reached any global fame :)

    Cheers!

    www.bluefrogwines.ph

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