JJ Yulo and Namee Jorolan of Pinoy Eats World

By Anonymous Paul on 20 July, 2011

As they’ve taken us on as their guests, Table for Three, Please now invites co-chefs JJ Yulo and Namee Jorolan on our table to tell us what they’re all about.

L-R: Marfee Dizon, Namee Jorolan, JJ Yulo, Poch Jorolan. Cres Yulo on camera.

First of all, What is Pinoy Eats Word (PEW)? What is it that you’re trying to convey or is there a vision behind all the dinners?

JJ: Gosh. We’re many things, really. We used to say we were students of food culture, organizers of food events, etc… Now I just tell people we’re a company that does experiential dining. We don’t just do dinners, but we do events, and tours, but food and food culture is always in the middle (as is eating).

There is no deep message we’re trying to convey — just the beauty of the experience of dining, I guess. We love bringing people together through food. we love interacting with people and seeing our clients interact amongst themselves. There are many layers underneath, of course — we like to push our local cuisine. We champion local purveyors and work with them. We want to see the food scene raise their bars and make Manila a vibrant eating destination. If we have to do it on the fringe, that’s fine with us. As for a vision, well, we definitely want to be an option for dining for now.

People usually see you guys as the face of PEW but who are the other people involved? Are there specific roles?

Namee: During the earlier days of PEW, there were more tours than dinners, but lately, especially with the rainy season, people prefer to go out to dinner than to go out of town. Team PEW is composed of 5 members. Without one, we won’t function like we do.

Poch Jorolan is our co-lead for tours along with Marfee. He’s our local guide in Pampanga who has his ears to the ground and all the friends he can call to make destinations for our tours. We call him the Pampanga Mayor or in JJ’s worlds, Overlord of Pampanga. He would know someone where ever we go. He puts together various destinations of food and culture including, but not limited to farms, churches, local markets and food purveyors, furniture factories and local artists. Our Pampanga tours are never the same. Each one is different. We’ve actually had guests who joined our tours twice because they saw food and destination that wasn’t the same as theirs. He also moonlights as a chef and GRO as JJ’s tandem whenever he gets a chance. He’s actually our featured chef for this week’s dinner. (*ed’s note- as of press time, last week’s Kapampangan themed dinner)

Marfee Dizon is Poch’s co-lead for tours. JJ fondly called her our Turkish Delight! She leads our tours to Turkey. She is our partner for travels as she handles travel for almost all of Europe but specializes in Turkey. She is also, I would say, our chief administrator. She handles a lot of our admin and operations requirements. She is also our Sales and Marketing arm who calls our guests and follows up on reservations and collects payments! And if you haven’t noticed, she’s also our Front of the House manager and our Maitre d’ who welcomes guests at the meeting place and escorts everyone to the venue. She transforms into our captain waitress as soon as we get to the venue! A lot rolled into one just like each of us!

JJ Yulo is our choreographer and head GRO. He also gave us all our ‘titles.’ He’s our host for the most part and does general entertainment. He’s our ideas man! He’s also my co-chef and we basically do menu concepts and food production in tandem from writing the menu, making the list, getting them from the market and of course cooking and preparing the food. He’s very well read and well travelled and up-to-date with practically everything that’s going on in the food scene… locally and globally! So fresh and new ideas keep coming. He’s also our writer and makes all our quirky names, yes that includes us, aside from our menu items.

Cres Yulo, aside from being JJ’s wife (which really encompasses her job description: takes care of us, sends reminders, and tells us what we need to see and hear basically) is our de facto creative director. Her background in architecture, interior design and photography has long been our secret weapon. She gives us a visual direction when we discuss the menu and the logistics of the event with her. She helps us put together the whole look of the venue, the event, the lights, even the plate, the menu prints, she does those too… not to mention the photography and documentation! The pictures she takes are phenomenal! She makes us look like we really know what we’re doing.

Namee Jorolan, me. JJ gave me the position ‘Ilaw ng Tahan’, and you can ask him why! I changed it one time to ‘chef-partner’ when I had to write a formal letter, “and he had to ask me, why? what’s wrong with Ilaw ng Tahanan? don’t you like it?” haha! I love it and I love what I do for Pinoy Eats World.

There is a recurring Pampangueno theme in terms of food and culinary tours. Understandably so as Pampanga seems to be the unofficial belly of the country. But are there plans of exploring, sharing or riffing from cuisines of other regions as well?

JJ: Oh certainly! I’m working on exploring the food of my roots in Bacolod, and Iloilo, and Bicol. There’s soooo many things to be re-discovered, and so much food that has to be propped up because they’re fading away from lack of interest.

Namee: Yes, there are plans, definitely. We hope to explore other places in the country such as Bicol and Bacolod with a very vibrant food culture as well as Bangkok and Singapore in Asia. We’d like to launch and run Hong Kong successfully first and do our research on the other regions. That includes calling old friends and making new ones so we can bring people to their houses where authentic and heirloom dishes are cooked and give our guests the real deal on regional cuisine. We definitely want to show them more than just what the restaurants offer.

Pinoy food: family styley or fine dining?

JJ: In my opinion, family style is best for this, because thats how its meant to be enjoyed, I think. we’re such a familial society – food is always at the center of our lives. It makes total sense to serve it that way, and it doesn’t mean that we just plop it in front of you either. It can be done with some panache, of course! BUT I don’t discount fine dining either. I guess its an avenue still being explored. I think as long as you remain true to the dish and its flavors, you can find ways to serve it in a fine dining situation.

Namee: Traditionally Asian food to me is family style, that includes Filipino food. But just like our Asian neighbors, there’s nothing that stops us from getting it to the fine dining level. At this point though, I like the mixed service of plating a few courses (appetizers and desserts) and serving the mains family style, besides, half the fun of eating the food is passing the platter to share what’s on it. Nothing keeps us from styling the platters for family style service too…

Plating a radish salad at a recent Japanese theme dinner.

As a corollary how does one push the Filipino cuisine envelope? I know you guys have seen action in many kitchens and restaurants abroad; what would need to be done to establish Pinoy food as a viable world cuisine?

Namee: We have to love and share Filipino food by cooking it, sharing it to our friends, talking about it, getting to know it and learning more and more about it! There’s so much about our cuisine that we don’t know about, how do we expect other people outside of our country get to know about it too. It’s a very exciting cuisine to explore because it can very from province to province. Growing up, I always wondered why Capampangan food is as such? I kept asking and reading up on influences and inspirations that made Capampangan cuisine what it is. I appreciated it more when I went to culinary school and realized that half the method that we use are documented classical French techniques.

A few of my “ah moments” in school:

-French interns came to Kendall to talk about their cooking in Leon, hunters take game to them and they have to kill, clean, and butcher them, then I realized, that’s what I would watch growing up when hunters from Candaba would bring wild ducks to my Lola to cook and serve, when there’s more, we add them to our menu to serve to customers

– we made duck confit in school, the chef explained the special method of cooking it in fat to keep it moist and tender (ah… that’s why the adobong dumara in my lola’s kitchen is always soaking in fat!!!)

– our French chef in advanced garde manger explained that before there were molds, they use caul fat to practice charcuterie. They don’t make their meat loaves in terrines, they wrap them in caul fat to keep the shape and the moisture (ah! that’s why my lola’s morcon is wrapped in caul fat… expect that i didn’t know what it was called then

And then when I worked at Chez Panise, I realized all the more the value of working with small farmers and local products and produce! Exactly what my lola was doing back in the day. My lola would grow our hogs for the restaurant, she said it’s the only way to ensure it’s quality, you know what it feeds on. My lola would commission and finance farmers to plant milagrosa for her, she won’t go for the commercial grade because she said, then her rice would taste like everyone else’s. She only wants to use the grain she asked to plant because she knows how the crop was cultivated! and this was 20 years ago when the whole slow food movement wasn’t all that popular, at least here in the Philippines!

JJ: Well, I take a cue from my other passion: music. I’ve always believed that to truly appreciate the new, you better learn and appreciate what is old. Same goes for food, especially Pinoy food. Embrace how it was done before – when it was done properly – then and only then can you propel it forward.

Primal pork roll at a guerilla dinner.

What made you decide to pursue cooking as a profession?

JJ: The ugly truth and turning point? When my graphic/web design business tanked big time. Food was always something of interest to me, but when my design group failed, thats when I decided to go for culinary school.

Namee: I’ve always wanted to pursue cooking. I grew up in a restaurant, literally. We lived on the second floor of Everybody’s Cafe when I was little. It was something I was really accustomed to and something that I loved and embraced. I remember my mom’s story that she loved telling her friends which kinda embarrassed me a little when I was younger… you know those kindergarten graduations when you walk up to the mic and tell the world you want to become a doctor (or an architect or a lawyer…) I went to the mic and told everyone I wanted to become a waitress, and the crowd laughed! But I was proud of it! I really wanted to serve food to people. I was 4 then I think. Now I can tell the story over and over and laugh because I failed. I became a chef instead.

It took me a while though and it didn’t come easy, I had to go to college first and take a real course, especially back when cooking was a vocational course. I ended up in Ateneo and finished BS MIS and worked in Andersen Consulting doing IT and Business Analysis. I kept getting assigned in Chicago where I had the opportunity to visit culinary schools and be inspired. At 25, I knew in my heart I would also want to wear that white jacket sometime in my lifetime, it was either I do it now or when I was 50! I decided to do it ‘now’. And I never turned back since.

So what made me decide to pursue this profession? My heart, I just followed what was truthfully in it.

What ingredient do you love cooking with?

JJ: We do love playing with humble, overlooked  ingredients like sweet potatoes, for instance. Oh, and fatty meat (haha!)

Namee: I love cooking with fruits and vegetables. I like using fresh fruits in sauces and desserts just as they are. Every plate of meat of fish has to have a substantial serving of vegetables. There’s so much we can do with them! They’re delicious and good for you. Coming from my Capampangan roots, we don’t have a lot of vegetable dishes so this is an avenue I really want to extend and share.

Before and during a PEW meal.

What’s your favorite junk food?
JJ: As I espouse healthy eating *cough cough* – I do like kettle chips and that god awful Marty’s chicharon. grrr..

Namee: Chippy! Comes with the memories. Although now I’m enjoying Marty’s spicy!

(*ed’s note: that’s Oishi’s Marty’s Cracklin’ Vegetarian Chicharon)

Is there any particular food that you just can’t seem to appreciate?

JJ: Peas. And calf liver. Ick.

Namee: I’m not a big fan of canned or processed food, meat especially. I would eat it when it’s served to me but it’s very rare that I’ll eat and cook with it.

What’s your most prized culinary possession?

JJ: I have to confess… I’m a menu thief. (Sorry restaurateurs.) They’re just fun to have and remind me of some really good restaurants I’ve been to. Oh and for the record, I’ve taken to asking for permission these days.

Namee: My tools, my knives especially! Practically every tool in my kit has a story. Some I even inherited from my mom (like my bench scrapers and measuring spoons) who’s a great cook herself! We are cooks and we are craftsmen and we are only as good as our tools!

You guys cook a lot for other people, but if you could chose one person to cook for you, who would it be?

JJ: Gosh..  to cook for ME? As in I’m the eater? How hard naman this question… Thomas Keller?

Namee: I’m really a fan of my mom’s cooking! It’s something I’ll never outgrew, but if it’s some other chef idol, I would really like to be fed by Mario Batali! His gusto is very inspiring, engaging and definitely appetizing

Favorite food destination?

Namee: Right now, I really like Bangkok. So much to eat, great value for money and lots of exotic ingredients to explore.  I’ve never been to Europe but I would also love to explore that one day. Locally, I like Pampanga and Bacolod! Solid!

JJ: Toss up between New York City, and Hong Kong.

Art incorporated. Top: Pottery at the Pettyjohn’s at a recent {F}+Art, or art infused food trips. Below: Pottery used.

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve had and where was it?

JJ: I could say Per Se, because that really blew me away. But then again… so did this lunch of crispy grilled liempo and steaming rice on the beach.. and my first trip to my favorite Hong Kong dimsum place.. and Saturday dinner dates with my lolo. Sometimes it wasn’t as much the food as the people I was with or places I was sitting in. Which I really think is the essence of a good meal – equally important to the food.

Namee: I have a few of these actually. One is eating with my lola and my cousins at Everybody’s Cafe. She talks and talks and talks and talks while making us eat kanin and sabaw, we had the best kanin and sabaw ever!

Another was family meal at Chez Panise. Family meals are staff meals so we expect to get something they cooked from scraps or left over, usually fish stew or curry! But at Chez Panise, oh my, we had rocket salad with yogurt and lemon dressing, a huge fillet of salmon roasted with twigs of lemon verbena, a bowl of chocolate pot de creme with fresh whipped creme fraiche and chopped orange peels, we even had wine and blue bottle coffee! Unforgettable!

If you didn’t end up being a chef, what would you be?

Namee: I’d still be in IT.

JJ: Probably still doing something in the creative field. Copy writer, maybe… or gee.. a food blogger for hire!




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*Photo credits: Cres Yulo


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