Even though Chef Miguel Trinidad hails from the Dominican Republic, he is no stranger to Filipino cuisine after spending extensive time in the Philippines studying the culture, the way of life and the food! As the head chef at the ultra-popular East Village-based Filipino restaurant Maharlika, Miguel has earned his spot as well-respected chef in New York City.
Proven more by the fact that Maharlika has won numerous accolades since it opened in 2011, including Best New Food in Time Out New York, Best New Restaurant by MetroMix, and Best Cocktail Drink from Tasting Table. We chat with the chef about the success of Maharlika, as well as his power teams new venture called Jeepney.
Tell me about the concept behind the menu, why you all wanted to open a Filipino restaurant in the city, and what sets it apart from other restaurants.
The whole vision behind Maharlika was dreamt up by Nicole Ponseca - she's an owner and founder. She wanted a restaurant where she could take people to feel proud of the food. Most Filipino places are known for being turo-turo joints, which are also known as point-point joints. By this, I mean all of the food is prepared in the morning and typically just sits at the same table all day. Thus, we really wanted to use the freshest ingredients, made to order, to give each individual ingredient in the dish its integrity. Then, the vegetables would be crisper and the sauce would be made separately, the meats would be braised so that they're more tender and then we'd produce final, freshly made product. So between Ponseca and myself, we're aiming to consistently colaborate on the menu and apply a fresh technique to all the Filipino-moderno dishes we serve.
Your cocktail menu is also really unique. Who came up with that concept?
The concept for the cocktails is all the brainchild of Enzo Lim, who is also our business partner. We wanted it to pay respect to all of the Filipino artists, so we named the cocktails after such notables. Lim created all the cocktails, is very well-known in the cocktail industry, has taken top accolades at several cocktail competitions and his bar work has been voted some of the Best 100 in the United States. We're really happy to have him on board.
What are some of the most used ingredients in Filipino dishes?
Some of the most frequently used ingredients in Filipino dishes would be patis (a fish sauce), calamansi, which is a citrus, kind of a cross between a mandarin and lime, rice, and garlic. The national Filipino dish is adobo and adobo is anything that can be cooked with these five ingredients - peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and vinegar. So we do an adobo chicken, we switch it up during the week sometimes we do a squid adobo! And most of those five ingredients are used in everyday cooking.
You're opening a new place, Jeepney? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Jeepney is the next project for us Maharlikans and it's going to be a Filipino Gastropub. Our goal is to make Jeepney your local, neighborhood bar where you go and hang out, have some drinks, and eat some really good Filipino food. We're currently playing around with new dishes, creating things that haven't been seen before over at Maharlika, and offering a lot of stuff that you won't find at most Filipino restaurants.
Jeepney is also going to be in the East Village. What do you like about this area?
It just feels like home. It's the right place. When we started off, we started in the East Village as a pop-up. We did that for eight months and then we moved over to the West Village. The West Village just wasn't a fit for us. The East Village is raw, everything's going on and it's down to earth.
How will Jeepney differ from Maharlika?
Jeepney is probably about the same size as Maharlika and offers an intimate backyard. Here at Maharlika the food is more upscale casual whereas Jeepney's cuisine concept is more pub grub. The drinks menu will consist of beers and wines only and eventually we'll introduce cocktails. Though, we are debuting with beer and wine cocktails. Jeepney opens on October 10th!