Chef Omar | Cuisine | Chef

CHEF OMAR SORIANO, JR: All Filipino but with a little mix of Spanish and a dash of French

by Sarah Lee If ever a career in culinary has crossed your mind, perhaps our featured Chef this month, Omar "Chef O" Soriano, Jr. may inspire you to consider a career in either professional cookery or patisserie and confectionery. I had few email exchanges with Chef O before he left for Mallorca to complete his Le Cordon Bleu degree requirement. I reminded him to take hundreds of snapshots and to share a fantastic "authentico" Paella dish for CelebrEATy TV viewers. And as soon as he breezed into "our kind of town --- Chicago yo!" he announced with so high degree of enthusiasm, "I'm back!" “Hola Sarah! Que tal?” “I made it back from Mallorca and just graduated from Le Cordon Bleu this past Saturday.” “I am back and ready for you (wink). As of now, my schedule is flexible and wide open.” “Do let me know details on when we can meet. I did take lots of pictures (Mallorca trip) so I can share them with you and tell you some stories.”

We finally met late last month to do a special episode for the CelebrEATy Circle. My initial observations --- Chef O didn't mind at all the hot conditions in the kitchen, he was all prepared to show off and impress (I love the confidence!), he brought everything from gadgets to set of knives to chef hat and uniform (omg, Chef O looks so "fierce" in his whitie!), and even to cookbooks and paella pans from his Spain trip. He really planned the whole taping --- Paella to start, and finish it off with a super-easy Sangria (see recipes in this page). Chef O is truly "fully equipped" --- culinary degree, many years providing quality catering services and all of his Mom's great recipes. "I love baking as well, mmm, show me yours and I’ll show mine (Sarah’s comment: Now Chef O you are sounding like Oprah!).” “I have an awesome cream cheese filled bread.” (Sarah’s comment: And I’m sure it’s not meant to be shared…ok, just bake me one and I’ll eat em all, lol.) I suggested to Chef O to put a spin on the classic Paella --- like making Asian-infused Paella, complete with Patis (fish sauce), Luya (Ginger), or why not add sinigang mix in the broth. Chef O loved the idea. “I must say…I went to Cafe Iberico after my graduation ceremony and was disappointed with Paella I ordered. It was too expensive…over-rated. Even the Sangria was horrible. So I say yes to Asianinfused Paella, simple, yet elegant, and full of flavor and call it Paella a la Viatimes." Awesome, awesome. Chef “O” was so calm in front of the camera. And his attention to details was remarkable. He even let us taste his homemade longganisa (he accepts orders for these, yumm! his contact info provided below ). It's getting to know more about Chef O --- his answers to all my 20 questions really will inspire you more to embark into a culinary journey. (S stands for Sarah, but of course.) S: Congratulations on completing your culinary education. How big a deal is that for you? "Graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Chicago is a great accomplishment, this is just a small stepping stone for me to begin my journey in becoming a chef. It is very important to finish culinary school because I want to become a very successful and famous chef throughout the world." S: How has your approach to food and cooking changed since you enrolled in a culinary school? "My approach to food and cooking has changed, by learning the different cooking techniques and seasoning food, you can take a recipe and make it your own. I learned to appreciate food more and enjoy cooking more now than ever." S: Do you have a kitchen philosophy? "Mise en place! Mise en Place! Mise en place! Preparation is everything, once all the prep work is done, cooking is the easiest part. I always cook with passion and pride! And always have a sharp knife..." S: What's the best thing you've learned in the culinary school? "The best thing I learned at Le Cordon Bleu is that NOTHING is to go to waste! For example, taking a whole chicken --- wings (fried chicken wings), drums and thighs (stew), breasts (grilled breasts), and the carcass and scraps (stock/ broth/ soup)."

S: What did you learn about yourself in attending a culinary school? "I learned that I have a true passion to cook and create new dishes as well as keeping my Filipino culture by knowing the cuisine and being eager to expand my knowledge on all other cuisines." S: You seem to just love being in the kitchen. What keeps it new for you that brings you back to the kitchen over and over again? "Definitely making and plating dishes up to bring friends, family, and even strangers together keeps me going. I keep an open mind and love the comments, suggestions, and critiques that will only make me better and better. Food brings us together to the table..." S: Tell me, is cooking an innate or inborn talent, or is it something that can be taught? "I would have to say all of the above." S: Having learned to perfect cooking in the culinary school, how do you go about collecting or adding recipes to your master recipes? "I wouldn't say that I have perfected cooking, because there are so many cuisines out there. I would love to travel as much as I can and learn study different cultures and cuisines and see how they use local produce to create traditional dishes." S: What did you grow up eating? Or what did you most enjoy eating as a kid? "I grew up eating Filipino cuisine as well as Southern cooking (from Texas, where I grew up) love the fried chicken, country fried steak, and pulled pork BBQ." S: When you think of cooking, what sensory element first comes to mind? Smell, taste, looks, texture? "Looks, definitely picturing what the dish looks like or how it will look first." S: What's the one dish every Filipino-American ought to be able to make? Describe how you make your own dish. "Rice! lol...it is a necessity! Seriously speaking, I would have to say pansit, it is one of our most traditional dishes. To prepare pansit you must soak bihon noodles in water, then julienne carrots, dice onions, mince garlic, chop celery, boil water for stock, shred or dice cooked chicken, scallions and lemon wedges for garnish. Heat wok and sautee onions and garlic in oil, add celery and carrots, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. In same wok, add some chicken broth and add the noodles, you may have to add more stock little by little. Flavor with patis, and black pepper to taste. Add the vegetables and chicken, you may add soy sauce to flavor. Ready for plating and garnish with scallions and lemon wedge." S: What do you usually cook when you're home by yourself? "I like to have a variation of dishes, especially fusing Filipino and French techniques and since I was in Spain, I like to experience with Filipino and Spanish infused dishes. S: What are some of your favorite Filipino products? "Philippine dried mangoes, Barrio Fiesta bagoong, and definitely Goldilocks ensaimada" S: And when the world is not perfect, when times get rough and when you don't really have time to cook, what do you want to eat? "(I'd) go to Golden Nugget and order me Country Fried Steak and Eggs."

S: Any favorite cookbooks? Any beginner's cookbook you can recommend? "A good friend of mine gave me his Escoffier cook book, thank you Chef Henry Peavey! I am currently writing my 1st cookbook for my sister's birthday present. Once published, I would highly recommend it! S: What advice do you have for someone who wants to enroll in a culinary school? "Try a cooking class FIRST! Culinary school is not for everyone, make sure you are passionate about food, wine, and cooking, otherwise it is not worth it." S: Can you talk a little about your comfort foods? "Anything that is baked, I am a sucker for pastries and baked goodies." S: When did you realize you have a passion for cooking? "I have always loved food and cooking growing up, it wasn't until high school though that I knew I had a passion for food. I tried to pursue a medical career as a medical assistant but 12 years later, I am a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and able to pursue my true profession as a chef/caterer." S: Name at least one mistake you think home cooks make that could be rectified by enrolling in a formal culinary education. "Cooking seafood...most home cooks tend to overcook or undercook it, and we all know that seafood is not cheap." S: Your favorite kitchen tool and why. "My 6 quart Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, I am able to produce my famous LINCOLN BREAD faster, however to keep up with the demand, I am looking to get a commercial stand mixer." S: Any kitchen disaster you can't forget? "Growing up, I liked to experience different foods. I remember wanting to try to make fried ice cream. Not having much cooking experience, I took a shot at it and heated up the oil , battered my ice cream scoops and tossed them in the hot oil. I must have missed a step somewhere and next thing you know, oil was bubbling over and it overflowed everywhere--- making a big mess. I will never forget that mistake." S: Tell me about your cheap eats/cravings. "Definitely the eggs and rice, it's fast to make and cheap. There is always rice and most of the time some eggs in the refrigerator. So I scramble up 2 eggs and add some rice and stir fry it and add a little salt and there you have it --- eggs and rice! I am no longer a fan of cheap fast food or processed foods...it may be cheap, but it is terrible for the human body."

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