Though most might associate chef Arthur Gonzalez dishes with the flavors and culinary heart of the Southwest by way of his restaurant Panxa Cocina, Gonzalez’s influences and experience extend well past the borders of the high desert.
Next Tuesday, March 8, in a one-day-only tasting at the Belmont Heights restaurant, Gonzalez will be revealing another side of his culinary expertise with a special menu celebrating the rich flavors and traditions of Filipino cuisine.
“I was exposed to Filipino food at a very young age growing up on the border of Norwalk and Cerritos,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not something I get to cook every day, so to learn these dishes and techniques is priceless to me.”
Gonzalez’s approach to the tasting menu, dubbed “Kaibigan Cocina” has been guided in no small part by collaborator Alex Ruperto, a first-generation Filipino-American chef who has been Panxa’s pastry chef for the last five years, though some may recognize the chef from his dessert business Sakura Chocolates, which showcases Filipino desserts among his other confections.
He’s also the mastermind behind a well received, although relatively new, Filipino food pop-up, Mama Vilma’s, a concept he named in honor of his mother, “my biggest influence in terms of cuisine and Filipino food memories,” Ruperto said. His last formal tasting in 2019 was an intimate eat-with-your-hands Kamayan-style dinner at Farm Lot 59.
View this post on Instagram
“Kaibigan Cocina,” (kaibigan means “friend” in Tagalog) both chefs admit, is a collaboration years in the making and is as much an excuse for the two creative chefs to experiment as it is a going-away party for Ruperto, who is moving back to New Jersey to be closer to family.
“We were chatting one day and we said, let’s do a pop-up so we can cook together a few more times before he leaves,” Gonzalez said. “Honestly if we didn’t sell one ticket, Alex and I would have come together and cooked like this anyway. We are just doing it to have fun.”
Kaibigan will feature eight dishes, including dessert, with creative takes on Filipino staples like lumpia, ginataang tahong (coconut milk sauteed mussels), pork sisig and adobong kangkong, which is a popular marinated spinach dish.
View this post on Instagram
“We’d shoot ideas back and forth and see what works,” Ruperto said of designing the menu. “I’d mention a dish or ingredient and he would think of how it could become a hybrid of our food.”
Gonzalez’s particular splash of flavor on the menu appears with prominent use of Hatch green chiles, a coveted green pepper native only to the Hatch Valley in New Mexico and is an ingredient Gonzalez is well known for employing (and roasting) in Panxa’s menu.
“We have a secret stash in Long Beach, because you can only get it [Hatch chile] once a year,” Gonzalez said.
Leaning into the central Filipino philosophy of food bringing people together, Kaibigan will be experienced family-style with dishes that have been enjoyed by Filipino families for generations. For Ruperto, the pancit palabok is a meal with particular sentimentality.
“It’s a noodle dish my mom made really well. It was our [me and my sister’s] favorite dish from her,” Ruperto explained. “It’s noodles, shrimp, shrimp ‘gravy,’ hard boiled eggs, fish flakes and chicharron crumbs among other things. My family always said it was my mom’s love language because of the amount of prep involved with all the accouterments.”
Though Kaibigan is the last hurrah for the chefs working together in the same space, Gonzalez will still be keeping close ties with Ruperto, who is slated to join the team at Gonzalez’s new restaurant, Tribe at Riverwalk in Castle Rock, Colorado.
“Alex is the best chef I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Gonzalez said. “I am sad to lose him to the East Coast, but he has worked really hard at his craft and I just want him to be happy. But make no mistake he will still be around.”
“Kaibigan Cocina” will debut Tuesday, March 8 at Panxa Cocina. Tickets cost $60; seating is limited. Click here to see the full menu and to purchase tickets.
Panxa Cocina is at 3937 E. Broadway.