Conversation with Top Chef Dale Talde
We arrived at TALDE in Brooklyn, where all was still quiet on a Wednesday afternoon. It was a few hours before service. I could see Dale from the window, engaged in a conversation with his business partner, David Massoni, phone in hand, and scribbling furiously at a pad. The interior is impressive. It is reminiscent of an old Philippine house, like a modernized 1800's ancestral home. Wooden furniture and wide windows. The bar is a welcome sight and is the first thing you see as soon as you walk in. The restaurant itself feels very homey. "You guys can set up in the back," he motioned to us. "I'm just finishing up here." After he and Mr. Massoni were done with their conference call, Dale walked toward over. "Hi guys, I'm Dale." He shook everyone's hand, and much to my ease, as well. "I had no idea what time you guys were coming," he laughed. "I'm sorry. I had a feeling you guys were coming early, but I totally forgot." It was very complimentary for Dale Talde to take time out of his very busy schedule for us. Not too long after TALDE opened in January 2012, his second restaurant with Massoni and Mr. John Bush, Pork Slope also went up in August. (Pork Slope is a roadhouse inspired bar. And, in October 2012, Dale also became a partner for Thistle Hill Tavern.) Dale is a very busy man these days, and that is an understatement. He had a calm, a charm around him, which was a pleasant surprise. I didn't really know what to expect, and while I've had my share of interviews and seen a variety of personalities, I had really been wondering how our presence would be perceived by the Top Chef alum. For those unfamiliar with his work, Chef Dale was on the largely popular television show, Top Chef, which is a rigorous culinary competition, to say the least. It features the best up-and-coming chefs in the country, and is now easily the most prestigious contest for chefs everywhere. And with two stints on the show (first in his hometown of Chicago, and then the All-Star season in New York), Dale has gained fame and notoriety not only for his skills and creativity, but also for his competitive drive and bravado, largely seen in his first Top Chef run.
Locally, Dale has also built the reputation of being a highly touted chef in New York, after working for Chef Masaharu Morimoto and for Buddakan. And having Dale as arguably the most recognizable Filipino-American chef (with Chefs Paul Qui and Sheldon Simeon recently following suit) is a huge source of pride. I previously wrote on how Filipino cuisine, and culture, for that matter, is in a renaissance period. And Chef Dale is eager to help carry his part for the cause. He is aware of where he now stands in the culinary world, that he is in a position to help promote Filipino cuisine, and his own style, on his own terms. This interview was in December, and the great Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao just lost to Juan Manuel Marquez. While our crew was setting up, I asked Dale about the fight. Did you see it? "That hurt, we had it at (his other restaurant) Pork Slope. He should hang it up. (Manny) had that fight won until the knockout, but I think it's time." You think so? "Man, I don't want to see him with a scrambled brain. I want to see him healthy. He should call it quits while he's functioning right." Dale is quite candid, and has a great sense of humor. He recalled one of the first Filipinos that came to eat when TALDE, his family namesake restaurant just opened. "I usually take time to look around and scope the place out. And then there was this Filipino couple who came, and when I stopped by the table, this lady was telling me, 'Oh, it's good. But this isn't Filipino food.' "And I'm like, 'Yes, Tita, I know po, it's not." He is quite knowledgeable of Asian cuisine in general. At Buddakan in New York City, Dale Talde worked with another great chef, Angelo Sosa, who was also a strong competitor on Top Chef. Sosa spoke of his praises as he recalled Dale's talent. And TALDE, after eating there a couple of times, is a direct message from Dale's creative genius. The techniques from Asian cooking are his tools, the plate his canvass. "I always think about making something tasty," he says. "I think of, say, for our green mango salad, I think of brightness." Dale has created a new world in Brooklyn, and his hard work is paying off. I looked around to see how he interacts with his staff, and with his cooks. It's a well-oiled machine, and he has the respect of the men behind that line. More of this to which he alludes in the interview. Below, our conversation with Chef Dale Talde. Video Production and Graphics: Jeph Fernandez Photography: Elysha Chang Camera: Jose Mercado   (Above Clockwise: Pretzel Pork and Chive Dumplings, Spicy Green Mango Salad, Perilla Leaves, Chow Fun)   TALDE Brooklyn is located at 369 7th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY. Hours for Dinner - Monday through Sunday: 5PM - 12AM Brunch - Saturday & Sunday 11AM - 3PM Reservations for parties 6-8 only. Cash, Visa and Mastercard are accepted, and take-out available for Dinner nightly from 5PM — 12AM.   Pork Slope Brooklyn is located at 247 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, and is open during these hours: Monday — Thursday 5PM — 4AM Friday — Sunday 12PM — 4AM Kitchen closes at 2AM Online ordering is available. Bar is cash-only.   Thistle Hill Tavern - Park Slope is on 441 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 Hours for Dinner - Seven Days A Week: 5pm – Midnight Brunch - Saturday & Sunday: 11am – 4pm Bar - Open Seven Nights A Week: Open until 1am Cash, Visa & Mastercard are accepted. Take Out & Delivery Available. Order Online. No Reservations.   For more photos, check out our Facebook Page: Follow these guys! Dale Talde on Twitter and Facebook. Bullfrog & Baum on Twitter and Facebook.   ---- Editor's note: When this humble endeavor that is Wika Magazine first started, we had a lot aspirations, from projects that we wanted to do, what stories we wanted to share, and people whose stories we wanted to hear. For my part, there was one person that I pushed for, one guy that we had to talk to. Chef Dale Talde. And so I must admit that it was an exciting moment when I saw an email from the team at Bullfrog & Baum. I hadn't really expected a reply to my prodding. They were immensely gracious for helping us with the project, and I am very grateful. As you can tell, my nerves were highlighted by my vehement agreement with Chef Dale's responses. I am, however, very proud and excited of what we accomplished here. By far, this was the most arduous piece we have worked on, as this was our first video feature with someone of Dale's stature, and it was a great experience. To Chef Dale, Bullfrog & Baum, and the guys at TALDE, again, thank you all very much.