On the Line: Philip Tangonan of The Cannery

I came to the conclusion sometime last year, but this week’s subject reinforces the notion that Filipino chefs are becoming a force to be reckoned with in Orange County. I can look as far back as 2011’s Louie Francis Jocson when he opened Red Table, to Ryan Garlitos before he turned the Irenia pop-up to full-fledged brick-and-mortar (and everyone in between— Ryan Carson is half; so is Steve Kling). There’s also the Downtown Santa Ana duo of Chapter One’s Jason Montelibano, and Ross Pangilinan helming Mix Mix Kitchen Bar. In the past six months alone I’ve interviewed MFK’s Henry Pineda, Skyloft’s Arthur Ortiz, Great Maple’s Carmine Lopez, and now Philip Tangonan. They may not all specialize in Filipino cuisine, but their familial upbringing definitely influences their restaurant’s respective menus.

Indispensable tool in the kitchen (that isn’t a knife).
The brain. I tell my cooks, “Don’t be a robot.” Flow through the motions and understand what you are doing and why you’re doing it. Learn from your experiences, good and bad.

What is your beverage of choice?
Guava mangonada at La Michoacana in Santa Ana.

Your recent food find.
Xoi Lap Xuong from Garlic and Chives.

What do you recommend for first-timers?
You can’t go wrong with our lobster roll for lunch, grilled octopus for appetizer, and our Duroc pork shoulder for dinner. Also, check out our nightly feature that is always seasonal and market fresh.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I am a 90s R&B aficionado, steady representin’ “Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD”.

Most undervalued ingredient.
Fish sauce.

What types of ingredients are you incorporating into the menu?
Seasonally fresh items that are prepared traditionally, with modern techniques that I’ve learned through the great chefs that I’ve worked with.

Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Do what feels good.

One food you can’t live without.
Crispy pata. There’s something about the crispy, crunchy and salty chicharron, with the steaming hot, velvety meat that makes every bite feel like the first bite.

Favorite places to eat.
Vaca in Costa Mesa. Corazon y Miel in the city of Bell. Snooze an A.M. Eatery in Tustin. And Thanh My in Westminster.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned.
Creating symmetry between all the hats that we wear as chefs. The kitchen, let alone the whole restaurant, has a lot of moving parts. From ordering coffee cups to, “Who do I call to replace the refrigeration condenser on the roof?” I have always worn different hats to get the job done. It’s never just cooking, it’s a balance between the artist, plumber, mother, accountant and teacher.

Last thing you looked up online:
New restaurants to eat at!

Where did you grow up, and where do you call home?
I grew up in Irvine. I call my uncle’s house home, whichever one, as long as the whole family is attending.

Favorite meal growing up.
Spicy pork ramen with poached eggs.

Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
My other great passion is music. I collect vintage records and I love to sing and play on the ukulele and guitar. My toddler, Cassandra, is also learning the tradition and is basically a tiny Elvis.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Long summer days with the homies, where our only worry was who was watching the bikes in the front of the store. I loved being a kid; I’m a big kid.

Tell me about some of the dishes you helped make with your grandmother.
My grandmother prepared very traditional Filipino food. Pork adobo, kare kare and sinigang (a fish stew) to name a few. We would walk to Metro-Manila Mart, and outdoor Filipino market, and choose vegetables. Then to the local butcher to pick up whatever type of animal. Lastly, trek back to the house, where we would turn on The Price Is Right and continued to prep for the day. I used a small paring knife to clean green beans, strip water spinach and smash ginger while my Grandma butchered . . .with a huge cleaver, on the floor— like a gangster.

You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Toad in a Hole with any fixings I happen to have in the fridge.

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t in the industry?
I’ve always been into improv comedy. Maybe own and run an improv theatre.

The Cannery is located at 3010 Layfayette Rd, Newport Beach (949) 566-0060; www.cannerynewport.com.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

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