How do you get to the beautifully composed plate, the press-ready headshot in gleaming chef’s whites, and the menu that offers a glimpse, however small, into a cook’s personal experiences? Toil. The grind that is all too often overlooked. Yes, there are the savants who rise through the ranks swiftly, the culinary geniuses who have investors lining up after their first high-profile stage. But those are the exceptions to the rule. Most chefs have to patiently wait their turn and execute somebody else’s vision as they build their own voice, not to mention a necessary battalion of believers.
Patrick Enage falls into that latter camp. A seasoned chef who has served time in New York (Campagna), Las Vegas (New York New York Hotel), California, and Cape Cod (Twenty-Eight Atlantic), Enage is getting his big break courtesy of Wink & Nod’s ongoing “pop-up incubator.” A protege of Bill Brodsky (City Landing), the now 40-year-old chef has spent the last couple of decades focusing on French, Italian, and American cuisine. Now, with Akinto, the chef returns to his Filipino roots in a six-month trial-by-fire that he hopes will spawn enough interest for him to finally branch off on his own. We caught up with the chef to discuss his first week on the job, his unique California upbringing, and his twisted soft spot for Yelp reviews.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I was born in the Philippines. I was there until I was about seven or eight years old, then moved to Los Angeles. I grew up in a huge Asian population; most of my friends were Japanese and Vietnamese. The food aspect of growing up had everything to do with Eastern Asian cuisine. At home we had Filipino food, at my friend’s homes we had Vietnamese pho. Taco Tuesday wasn’t really a part of my upbringing. I started cooking about 17 years ago, first at culinary school in Santa Barbara and then at a bunch of different restaurants, but I always maintained this affinity for the ingredients that I grew up with.
Is this the first time you’ve been able to cook the type of food that you grew up with?
Absolutely, and that’s why it’s such an exciting venture for me, being able to jump into a program like this at Wink & Nod and actually being able to feature and showcase the flavors that I am very, very familiar with.
Is this something that you’ve wanted to do throughout your career or is this a more recent development?
I’ve always wanted to do my own food. In the kitchens I worked at, I was always the guy filling the pantry with fish sauce and sriracha, way before sriracha was as big as it is today. But I never really got the opportunity to showcase those kind of flavors. When City Landing closed and Bill [Brodsky] was picked up by BNV [Boston Nightlife Ventures], Bill brought me along because he always enjoyed the foods that I cooked. So here we are!
Were you cooking this kind of food at staff meals? How were you able to practice and exercise your passion for the cuisine that you grew up with?
Yeah, I cooked like this for staff meals and for specials at Twenty-Eight Atlantic. Basically, every single chance that I could get I would play with Asian flavors, whether that was fried rice or steamed fish or baos. My cooks loved it because they’d never encountered these umami Southeast Asian components. In Boston, I’m really interested in showing customers that going into a place in Chinatown is different than walking into a Malaysian restaurant or Filipino restaurant. I want to showcase all those little nuances that make these cuisines different.
You have the perspective of having grown up in an environment with all these unique Asian flavors. Have you also been fortunate enough to travel in those areas as well?
I’ve been all throughout Asia. I just returned from the Philippines and Singapore. I’ve been to Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and Japan. I love to travel, mainly because it brings me back home, and those bold, punchy flavors that I like to work with in the kitchen. In general, the thing about Filipino food—and a lot of Filipinos will tell you this—is that the food is tasty and nostalgic, but when you go out you can’t really find it anywhere. They’re just few and far between because it’s so hard to source the ingredients.
It sounds like this opportunity at Wink & Nod came about pretty quickly. Did you have a difficult time putting together the menu in such a short amount of time, or was this something you’ve been developing for a while?
The flavors have been rolling around in my head and my heart for as long as I can remember. Yes, it’s happening really fast, but when I got the word that we were going to be able to make Akinto a reality, I rushed over to the Philippines and did a ton of research. Really, my “ah-ha!” moment came when I realized I’d never be able to replicate what they’re making in Southeast Asia without the right ingredients. It’s all very ingredient driven. But once I came back here and tracked everything down, well, then it was game time. It just came naturally I guess.
Was it easy to find those crucial ingredients?
It requires some effort, but once again, this is all so ingredient forward. I had to find the right fish sauce. There are very distinct flavors and nuances to every brand of soy sauce, whether they’re from Korea or Japan. From the noodles to the kind of rice that we’re using, everything is very authentic. I think it’s the most important factor to what we do here.
I know you haven’t been open that long, but how’s the reception been so far?
It’s been awesome! It’s hard to believe it has only been a week. I’ve never been so into Yelp and other online reviews.
You’re actually reading those?
Yes I am. I’m huge on criticism. Because of the way the program is, it’s all about refining and honing what Akinto is and should be. I think it’s important to be in touch with everyone’s opinion, especially the neighborhood.
This concept at Wink & Nod is described as a “culinary incubator,” do you see Akinto becoming its own brick and mortar restaurant someday?
You know what, I would love for it to be. Write some good things about me so some investors will see this and bankroll me. Seriously, I’d really like to think so. I have six months to make it happen. Luckily, I have a crack team of cooks helping me out.
Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/2015/04/08/patrick-enage-talks-akinto/
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