Patrice Cleary is the owner of Purple Patch DC, a Filipino American restaurant in the Mount Pleasant area of the nation’s capital. In its first year, Purple Patch was listed among the “Top 25 Restaurants of 2015 in D.C.” by Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post. Though the 150-seater restaurant offers both Filipino classics and American entrees, the eatery was singled out for its Asian cuisine.
To the unfamiliar, the restaurant’s name “Purple Patch” refers to an Australian expression about “a place of success” or “one’s good luck.” However, Patrice’s approach to running Purple Patch DC has nothing to do with luck. It’s all hard work for her, and she makes no qualms about using bottled banana catsup and lechon sauce (staples to Filipinos). Though she respects chefs who make their own sauces, she supports Filipino brands by using them as dipping sauces.
Petite and demure, with glowing Irish-Filipina looks, Patrice runs the impeccable kitchen like a giant. She gave brisk orders as dishes like spicy sizzling sisig (fried pork belly appetizer), crisp lechon kawali (roast pork chunks) and tangy sinigang (tamarind soup) were being churned out.
Patrice knew the Mount Pleasant area was the best central location for a restaurant with a Filipino cuisine. Her bold move showed her strength and resiliency in facing scrutiny from a very ethnically diverse community.
“We used a lot of my mother’s recipes” when Purple Patch first opened, Patrice said. Eventually, she knew she had to rely on her own skills. “I was in charge of my kitchen and had to operate a full service restaurant.”
“I knew my flavor profile and the direction I wanted for my menu,” she added. “If I was going to sell the food I was serving, I needed to be the person responsible for the process.”
Patrice grew up in the food business. She learned from an uncle, who owned a restaurant, and her mom, who was a caterer.
“I was not ashamed to ask my mentors questions. I surrounded myself with people who had more experience.”
Staying on top of trends is important for her. “I love watching chefs in action.”
Patrice admires her mother. “Mom moved to the USA with two small children and one on the way. Her strength, when faced with adversity reminds me of what I go through daily.”
“I enjoy creating. I remember family dishes I liked over the years. I recreate them hoping to do it better.”
Sourcing ingredients is important to her. “I walk through the markets. I get inspired to try a new direction in the recipe I originally had in mind.” Cleary recalled living all over the world especially in the Azores, Portugal, as a child. “I loved picking fresh figs off trees. I got excited over different ways you could eat a fig.”
Her proudest accomplishment was to take a leap of faith and open Purple Patch. “Four months after we opened The Washington Post called to interview me. My first thought was, ‘Tom Sietsema knows me!”
Patrice Cleary strives to bring her Filipino identity to the table. At Purple Patch, she went a step further and added her Irish descent plus her husband’s Australian roots to influence the menu. The result is a combination of Filipino classics and American favorites.
Cleary knows Filipino food is versatile to the palate. It is the sum of influences from Spanish and Chinese cuisines. Filipino dishes at Purple Patch are both for the adventurous and the cautious eater. The flavors range from the spicy to the salty and sweet in manageable portions that leave room for the unique Filipino ube (purple yam) desserts Cleary developed.
Patrice knows the culinary world is in a great place right now. “I’m excited to be part of this.”
“Purple Patch has become a home for many Filipinos in the area. It makes me happy and proud that they love coming with friends and family.” She added, “Being responsive to our guests is what we strive for.”
In a city that has a huge representation of nearly every culture and ethnicity, Patrice is confident her Filipino culinary journey will thrive. She stands out with the “purple patch” she has built for herself and is confident that Philippine cuisine will succeed in the US capital.
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site AsianInAmericamag.com.
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