I first learned of Henry Pineda at OCAPICA's Tastemakers of Orange County event last month. Henry joins our growing community of Filipino culinary professionals such as Steve Kling of Five Crowns and Ryan Garlitos of Irenia. His Anaheim establishment, MFK, is set to open in the very near future. In the meantime, Pineda and I discuss family, balance and eating with our hands.
Could you please explain the full name of your restaurant?
The full name is Modern Filipino Kitchen by AYSEE, or MFK, for short. Although MFK's first location will be here in Anaheim, its origins begin in the Philippines in 1986 with a restaurant called AYSEE. It's a family business led by Daisy Bulus that has gained a popular following through its 30-year tenure in the Philippines. It has been recognized by having the best sisig* in the Philippines by many different media outlets.
*(Sisig is a popular dish made with crispy minced pork, sauteed with shallots tossed in calamansi and served on a sizzling skillet topped with a sunny side up egg.)
Since AYSEE inspired me to get started in this industry, I thought it was fitting for me to expand the brand to America and to pay homage by using its name. AYSEE is actually an acronym of family names from my mother's side.
Favorite meal growing up:
Pan seared chicken nuggets, garlic fried rice and over easy eggs. My mom made this for breakfast all the time.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
That Filipino food is greasy and unhealthy. Granted, that can be true, but there are plenty of dishes that are vegetable-based and can be made very healthy with a lot less oil.
Is there a dish you'd like to learn how to make?
ALL OF THEM! There are so many cultures with different dishes, it's hard to pin it down to just one.
How will MFK's cuisine differ from other local Filipino restaurants? Is there a specific region in the Philippines you are focusing on?
We're keeping the taste of traditional Filipino food from back home, but also adding innovative and modern twists on Filipino and American favorites that utilize fresh ingredients and locally sourced produce. We aim to create a culinary experience that caters to both generations of Filipinos, young and old, as well as people of different backgrounds. Our dishes have a lot of flavors from Pampanga, the culinary capital of the Philippines, but also explore different islands and regions in the Philippines.
As a kid growing up with two parents who worked full-time, what was the first thing you learned how to cook?
The first thing I can recall making myself, other than the eggs, was a dish my aunt made. It was a breaded chicken breast brushed with mustard and baked. The first couple of times I made it, I think I may have overcooked/burned it (laughs), but that was long ago.
Are there any advantages (or disadvantages) to being a middle child?
In my case, not really. My sister is a lot older, so I didn't feel like a middle child. I grew up feeling like an older brother.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
One of my favorite childhood memories was a small vacation I took to Baja, Mexico when I was eight. I went with my Dad, uncles and cousins. It was a two-day drive to a beautiful, secluded beach, and I had a blast. We played laser tag in the middle of the night, went fishing, barbecued and caught crabs along the shore with our pocket knives. All good memories. One thing that really stood out was at night, when we threw sand in the water, it would just sparkle and glow— just like the movie Life of Pi. It's definitely one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Breakfast is my favorite part of the day, so it's hard to narrow it down. It would depend on what's in my fridge and pantry. It could range from a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of black beans, eggs and tortillas or toast, to Spam fried rice and eggs.
How did you celebrate Christmas growing up?
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I have a big family, so it's always a good time filled with lots of laughs and food.
Being that my mother is a Filipina and my father is from Guatemala, I got the best of both worlds. We would go to my Father's side and eat Guatemalan tamales and hang out with my family. Then head to my Mother's side where they had a fresh, roasted whole pig (lechon) waiting for us. Every year it would switch between where we went first. But, regardless, I always ended up in a food coma.
I'd like to learn more about your weekend Kamayan service.
This is something we are really excited about. Our weekend Kamayan service is a cultural culinary experience that is fun for the whole family. Kamayan means to eat with your hands, and it's a traditional way of eating in the Philippines. The food comes out family-style and is plated on banana leaves that cover your whole table. Your choice of rice will be plated in the center of the table, and all of the traditional dishes will be decoratively placed around the table for everyone to share. There will be no plates and your hands will be used as utensils. In the Philippines, it is customary to eat as a family, and that is something that I want to bring back here.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Keep it simple. Salt and pepper go a long way. A lot of people like to go crazy with the seasonings. Just keep it simple. You will be surprised how good something tastes with just salt and pepper, especially on a good steak.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to spend time with my family and cook for them. I have an umpteen number of cousins, nieces and nephews, and there is never a dull moment with them. It's either that or just relax and play the piano. I could play for hours. It's a nice stress reliever.
Um, you need to tell me more about this Bibingka Corndog?!
The Bibingka Corndog is our play on the American classic. We use a Filipino sausage called longanisa and dip it into our bibingka batter. Bibingka is a classic Filipino rice cake that we played around with and turned into a batter. This dish is sweet and savory with hints of coconut and garlic.
Where was your most recent meal?
My most recent meal was at Sake 2 Me in Cerritos, an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. I ate there with my girlfriend/eating buddy/loml (love of my life).
Last book you read; how was it?
The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. It was a nice read.
I'm currently in the process of reading the whole Bible.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
The hardest lesson I've learned, and still continue to learn, is balance. It's easier said than done. But it makes a world of difference when you have balance in your life. When it comes to work, family, money and especially time, when you're able to balance them, life becomes a lot more manageable.
Last think you looked up online:
The weather at Disneyland.
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
I can play a few instruments. I'm not a pro, but I can play piano, ukulele and know a few songs on the guitar.
What would be your last meal on Earth?
It would depend on what I'm craving at the moment. But it would probably be a home-cooked meal by my mom.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I can't really picture myself doing anything else. However, because of my faith, whatever I get into (as long as I put in the work) I know I will be guided.
MFK by AYSEE will be located at 2620 W La Palma Ave, Anaheim.
For more information, please contact them by email or phone at MFKaysee@gmail.com or (657) 337-5288.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.