Chef’s Secrets – In the Kitchen

The very first time I went to a Feastly event, I was there helping an old high school buddy at his pop-up. It was one the first times Feastly (first time?) Feastly had used the DTLA loft, and the first time my pal held a Feastly event in Los Angeles. It was also the first time we had seen each other in years, and the first time I’d ever made a mojito without a mix. Lots of first times that night…

When I first arrived, I picked up Chef Alex and we went to the local market for some last minute goods. Baskets full of delicious, locally grown veggies and other treats later, we started prep.

Lumpia, which was the star of the show at that dinner, is comprised of finely minced ingredients wrapped in a paper-thin flour wrapper before being deep fried to a gorgeous golden brown. And so we set to work, Alex chopping and me mixing the ingredients for his signature bacon cheeseburger lumpia in a giant metal bowl.

I’ve made lumpia before, with my mom and grandma, but I’d never seen anyone make lumpia as quickly and efficiently as Alex. The secret to creating perfectly rolled, uniformly sized lumpia in minutes? Add filling just below the halfway mark of the wrapper, no more than the width of a thumb and the length of a forefinger, flip the bottom of the wrapper over, pull toward you, fold in the ends, then roll with the palm of your hand before sealing with egg wash or water.

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Bacon cheeseburger lumpia, with sriracha mayo and barbeque sauce.

For part of the dinner, he served a pot pie called chicken afritada, bite size pieces of garlic and soy-marinated chicken cooked in a tomato sauce with carrots, onions, potatoes, bell peppers, and peas. The whole mess is cooked down, then loaded into large pastry-lined ramekins before being topped with perfectly flaky pie crust that he got from a pastry chef friend.

Topping pot pies with pastry is easy and fun; the key to making each pot pie look exactly like the others is to use a bowl about 1/2 inch bigger than your ramekin all the way around to cut out the tops. Make sure you seal the top to the bottom, and cut a decorative slit or hole to vent properly. And, for the love of all that is tasty, don’t re-roll leftover pastry scraps more than twice to make new tops for the pot pies. I tried that, did a test bake, and experienced pastry failure unlike any I’d seen in years.

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When you’re friends with a chef, sometimes that means he puts you to work at his Feastly pop-up. Chicken afritada pot pies, anyone?

Feastly meals aren’t truly complete unless there are signature cocktails on offer. This one featured a mojito made with calamansi juice. Calamansi is actually a hybrid of kumquat and (likely) a mandarin orange. Its flavor is similar to that of a Persian lime when totally green and unripened, deepening to a sweeter, more mellow Meyer lemon-meets-tangelo taste when fully ripe. But for our purposes, we used the juice of mostly green calamansi, mixed with caramel water and rum.

To be honest, the caramel water was a mistake. I’d put a bunch of sugar and water into a pot, on low, to make sugar syrup. However, I was so involved in rolling out the dough for the tops and bottoms of the pot pies that I completely forgot about it until I picked up the scent of caramel from across the kitchen. I’m not quite sure how I noticed that aroma because the afritada filling was cooking (and, boy, is it fragrant!), but I got to the stove just in time to pull the pot off the heat. The sugar had dissolved, the water had reduced, and then it turned a beautiful amber color that tasted exactly like caramel. And thus, a new ingredient was discovered.

Mixing one part caramel water with three parts calamansi and two parts rum yielded a light, fruity cocktail that all of our drinking patrons loved. So much so, in fact, that we ran out of rum before dinner was over!

Dessert was apple pie lumpia, garnished with vanilla ice cream, caramel, and nuts. Despite everyone being incredibly full from the previous courses, they devoured the lumpia and wished for more. The key here is to make the filling before wrapping the lumpia, so that you’re frying it just long enough to get the wrapper cooked and crispy – frying it to cook the filling would require a longer time in the oil and might result in leakage as the fruit loses its juice.

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Apple pie lumpia! Photo snagged from

All in all, I learned a lot from working in a Filipino kitchen – from the actual ingredients of afritada, to rolling lumpia, to how to make caramel water – and I couldn’t be happier that I got to share these secrets with you!

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