Purple Yam Spreads the Love

Purple Yam Malate is Amy Besa's ancestral home on Julio Nakpil St. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Purple Yam Malate is Amy Besa's ancestral home on Julio Nakpil St. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Chef Romy Dorotan walked into Purple Yam NYC with a large shopping bag filled with fresh produce slung on his shoulder. Deep in thought, he smiled when he saw us at a table. He asked how we were, joked, we laughed. He asked what we ordered. He told me he had the heritage pork dish I wanted. It was added to our order: the crisp ukoy (shrimp fritters), tocino with sinangag (cured pork with garlic rice), fresh lumpia (vegetable egg wrap), steamed fish with vegetables and a take-home order of bibingka (rice cake with cheese and butter).

We were at Purple Yam NYC for brunch, driving 50 miles to Brooklyn for Filipino food. The kind that was cooked with the care, precision and attention to detail that only Chef Romy Dorotan could do. We relished the meal with Romy’s stories as he sat with us. He generously gave me cooking tips. We discussed ingredients, prices, where to source.

Amy Besa, his wife, is the other half of the Purple Yam partnership. She is the yin to Chef Romy’s yang. Together they forge their ideas, creativity and resources to come up with the best of Philippine cuisine in the restaurants they have opened. 

When Amy and Romy opened Cendrillon Restaurant in Manhattan's SoHo in the early ‘90s, my sons were little. Cendrillon was our haven. Once when my son, then six years old, refused to eat, Romy affectionately asked him, “What do you want to eat? I’ll make it for you.” And so the chef cooked steamed vegetables on rice. My son ate. Little things like this endear one to this compassionate duo. They also choose ingredients with care. They strive for perfection by finding the best local artisan or source. Caring goes into the mix as the main condiment. At times, the chef himself brings the dish to your table.

Cendrillion in SoHo, New York (Source: yelp.com)

Cendrillion in SoHo, New York (Source: yelp.com)

Amy refers to Romy as the heart of the Purple Yam kitchen: “He makes things happen.”

When Cendrillon closed and Purple Yam in Brooklyn opened, customers followed. Fans knew they could count on the same care this culinary duo consistently strives for.

Amy and Romy’s achievements have gained acclaim. Their cookbook Memories of Philippine Kitchens earned the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Jane Grigson Award in 2007.

“Romy and I are very proud of this baby, which took four years to finish. Winning the award at the IACP for Distinguished Scholarship was one of our happiest moments since Romy met Jane in the ‘80s and introduced her to lemongrass (an unknown ingredient then).”

Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan :" We will split our time between Purple Yam NYC and Manila. All the ingredients that we have been dying to use are all here, but unfortunately most of them are ignored or underused in the restaurant industry. Hopefully, we will change that. More people should look into what we have instead of importing stuff from abroad. Support our local farmers, fishermen, small producers. Let our peso spent on food return to the people of our country." (Amy Besa/Purple Yam Facebook page). (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan :" We will split our time between Purple Yam NYC and Manila. All the ingredients that we have been dying to use are all here, but unfortunately most of them are ignored or underused in the restaurant industry. Hopefully, we will change that. More people should look into what we have instead of importing stuff from abroad. Support our local farmers, fishermen, small producers. Let our peso spent on food return to the people of our country." (Amy Besa/Purple Yam Facebook page). (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Now, Amy and Romy have opened Purple Yam Malate, at her ancestral home on Julio Nakpil Street. Reservations are for Friday to Saturday dinners and Sunday brunch. The menu will depend on ingredients freshly sourced by Romy himself. He flew to Manila to open the Malate venue. Within days he was in Bicol waters swimming for seaweed delicacies. That’s the kind of caring one will taste from every meal the chef prepares. The customer enjoys the freshness. The local seller gets the recognition via Romy’s expert preparation. Last February, Amy said about her trip back to the Philippines: “I hope to be involved in the rebuilding of farms and helping farmers find markets.”

Chef Romy Dorotan flew to Manila to open the Malate venue, sourcing ingredients himself. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Chef Romy Dorotan flew to Manila to open the Malate venue, sourcing ingredients himself. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Purple Yam's menu will vary depending on local ingredients freshly sourced by the chef. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Purple Yam's menu will vary depending on local ingredients freshly sourced by the chef. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Fresh carabao's milk are used in the ice creams. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Fresh carabao's milk are used in the ice creams. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

She explained, “What I really want is to make a difference in someone’s life. If I am able to help just one or two families and make their lives better, then that will make me very happy.” This goal is the cornerstone of their foundation Ang Sariling Atin (ASA). Amy and Romy have started to build community kitchens, creating livelihoods around the Philippines. Amy is the best spokesperson for ASA and in time will share updates on this advocacy centered on caring for the farmer and local producers.

No matter how many times one goes to any of Romy and Amy’s restaurants, some things are constant: Romy and Amy are exceedingly proud of their craft built on passion for food, culture and culinary heritage.

Amy’s effervescent spirit is contagious. Her laughter is infectious, indelibly hers, making diners turn and smile. Wherever Amy and Romy are, they illuminate the world with their kindness. They stir the pot of conscious caring.

“Why is Filipino food the best in the world? It is cooked with love and served with hospitality and generosity!” affirmed said Amy.

The dining room was formerly the bedroom of Amy's parents - Drs. Augusto S. Besa and Solita Camara-Besa. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

The dining room was formerly the bedroom of Amy's parents - Drs. Augusto S. Besa and Solita Camara-Besa. (Photo by Tricia Tensuan)

Purple Yam NYC: 1314 Cortelyou Rd., Brooklyn, NY 11226, USA, www.purpleyamnyc.com

Purple Yam Malate: 603 Julio Nakpil St. corner Bocobo St., Malate, Manila

Amy Besa is at acbesa49@gmail.com for reservations.


Elizabeth Ann Quirino

Elizabeth Ann Quirino

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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